We've assembled a list of frequently asked questions about private fostering to give you a basic introduction to the subject. For a deeper understanding of private fostering and private fostering arrangements, consider downloading our PDF, which includes practice-based questions posed by professionals, along with comprehensive answers.
What is private fostering?
Private fostering is a private arrangement made between a parent and a responsible adult for the care of a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled). The person who will be looking after the child is not a parent or close relative of the child, and the arrangement is planned to last for at least 28 days.
Private foster carers may be from the extended family such as a cousin or great aunt. A private foster carer may be a friend of the family, the parent of a friend of the child, or someone previously unknown to the child’s family who is willing to privately foster the child.
The period for which the child is cared for and accommodated by the private foster carer should be continuous, but can include the occasional short break. The local authority in which the private foster carer lives must be notified of the arrangement.
How does kinship care differ from private fostering?
The term ‘kinship care’ can refer to:
care by a close relative (as defined by Children Act 1989);
where the child is looked after by the local authority under s20 or s31, care by a family member, friend or other significant person who is approved as a kinship foster carer;
care by a family member or friend (not including a relative as defined by the Children Act 1989) where a private arrangement has been made between the parent and the person caring for the child. Where this arrangement extends beyond 27 days and the child is under the age of 16 (or 18 if disabled), this becomes a private fostering arrangement.
What is a close relative?
A relative, as defined by the Children Act 1989, is a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether by full or half blood or by marriage) or step-parent. If a child is accommodated by a relative this arrangement is not a private fostering arrangement.
Who are the children that are privately fostered?
The children and young people who are privately fostered can be broken down into the following broad groups.
- Children whose parents live abroad;
- Children in language schools staying with host families on a short-term basis;
- Children at independent boarding schools who do not return home for holidays;
- Local children living apart from their families due to parental/family relationship problems;
- ‘Sofa surfer’ teenagers; often a vulnerable group with a history of abuse or neglect;
- Unaccompanied minors; some of these will have experienced trauma / be fleeing from danger;
- Children with parents studying in the UK;
- Children brought into the UK for the purposes of adoption;
- Children ‘on the edge of care’, often living away from home due to relationship difficulties;
- Children subject to safeguarding not able to return home;
- Children with parents abroad in the armed forces;
- Trafficked children (these are children and young people who are likely to have suffered trauma);
- UK-born children involved in vocational activities;
- UK-born children whose parents are working abroad;
- UK-born children whose parents are working away in the UK.
Who is responsible for notifying the local authority of a private fostering arrangement?
The duty to notify the local authority of a private fostering arrangement lies with:
- the person proposing to privately foster the child; they should notify the local authority at least six weeks before the arrangement is to begin or as soon as possible after the arrangement has been made;
- the parent or person making the arrangement; they should notify the local authority at least six weeks before the arrangement is to begin or as soon as possible after the arrangement has been made;
- a parent, or person who has parental responsibility for the child, who has not been involved in making the arrangement but know about it. They should notify the local authority as soon as they become aware of the arrangement.
Any other person aware of a private fostering arrangement should, as part of their responsibility to safeguard the welfare of children, notify the local authority. This will include teachers and other school staff, health visitors, GPs, school nurses, and a range of other people whose work brings them into contact with children.
For parents and carers
What should I do if I am a parent planning to place my child with a private foster carer?
You should contact the local authority at least six weeks before the arrangement is going to start or as soon as possible after you make the arrangement for a private foster carer to look after your child. You should ask to speak to someone from the initial contact service: this may be a duty social worker. You will be asked to provide certain information including:
- your name and address
- details of your child
- details of the proposed private foster carer
- details of anyone else with parental responsibility for the child
- the date when the arrangement will start
- the proposed length of the arrangement.
A worker from the local authority will arrange to visit the person proposing to privately foster your child, meet with members of their household and your child, and meet with you if this is practically possible. This is to make sure that the arrangement is suitable and will meet your child’s needs.
What if I am already privately fostering a child but I did not know that I should inform the local authority?
You should notify the local authority in which you live as soon as you become aware that you are privately fostering a child. You should ask to speak to someone from the initial contact service: this may be a duty social worker. You will be asked to provide certain information including:
- your name and address
- details of the child and yourself
- details of the parent(s) and anyone else with parental responsibility for the child
- the date when the arrangement started
- the proposed length of the arrangement.
Within seven working days you will receive a visit from a local authority worker who will want to talk to you, the child and other members of your household. Their responsibility is to ensure that the arrangement is meeting the needs of the child and to ensure that you have the information, advice and support you require.
What financial help is available to support private fostering arrangements?
The person responsible for financially supporting a private fostering arrangement is the parent (or person with PR). The private foster carer should ensure that they are in receipt of all welfare benefits they are entitled to, including Child Tax Credit, Child Benefit and other benefits that parents get. If the local authority considers the child to be a ‘child in need’, they have the power to provide financial support under s17 of the Children Act 1989.
Support available for private foster carers may include:
- advice on benefits and possible funding for some essential items
- parenting support and advice
- help in bringing families in crisis back together
For more information about private fostering you can visit your local authority’s website.
What should someone in a professional capacity do if they believe that a child is being privately fostered?
In your professional capacity you have a responsibility to safeguard the welfare of the children you encounter in your day-to-day work. If you think that a child is privately fostered, you should discuss this with the child’s carer and parent (if you are in contact with their parent) and encourage them to notify the local authority of the arrangement.
If you suspect that neither party has been in touch with the local authority or that they are unlikely to contact the local authority, you should request their permission to contact them yourself. If consent is not given and you still suspect that the child is privately fostered, you should notify the local authority children’s services duty team. Where the child is of an appropriate age and understanding, you should consult with them and, if possible, obtain their consent.
If you have discussed the matter with the private foster carer, and parent if possible, you will not be breaching confidentiality if you decide to contact the local authority. You will be ensuring that the child’s welfare and safety come first. A child in a private fostering arrangement who is not brought to the attention of the local authority may be a child potentially at risk. What to do if you are worried a child is being abused.
What does the local authority need to do when notified of a private fostering arrangement?
The local authority must visit the private foster carer in their home, meet with other members of the household, the child and, where possible, the child’s parent(s). This visit must take place within seven working days of the notification. The officer from the local authority (in most cases, a social worker) will carry out an assessment of the suitability of the arrangement and prepare a report. The local authority must make a decision about the suitability of the arrangement within 42 working days of the notification (or once DBS checks have been received if later).
Why does the local authority need to see the child or young person who is privately fostered?
The local authority has a legal duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children living in private fostering arrangements. It is also important to ensure that children are able to give their views, wishes and feelings in relation to the arrangement. This is why they should be seen every time the local authority visits and should be seen on their own, unless this is not appropriate because of their age or particular needs. All children need information and explanations about the private fostering arrangement and should be encouraged to develop and express their own views and helped to make choices.
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