Private Fostering – Looking after someone else’s child?
What is private fostering?
Private fostering is very different from the care of children provided by local councils through approved foster carers. The child would not be one that is looked after by the local council under the Children Act 1989.
Children under 16 (or 18 if disabled) are classed as privately fostered when they are cared for on a full-time basis by adults, who are not their parents or a close relative, for a period of 28 days or more.
A close relative is defined as grandparent, brother, sister, step parent or uncle (brother of one’s father or mother, an aunt’s husband) or aunt (sister of one’s father or mother, an uncle’s wife).
Usually a birth parent chooses and arranges private foster placements, which could take many forms. These include children coming from abroad to access the education and health systems, children living with a friend’s family after separation, divorce or arguments at home, teenagers living with the family of a boyfriend or girlfriend, or people who come to this country to study or work, but antisocial hours make it difficult for them to care for their own children.
It is estimated that about 10,000 children in England are privately fostered.
What are the responsibilities of local councils?
Privately fostered children are protected by the Children Act 1989 (Part IX) and associated regulations.
Local councils have clear responsibilities and accountabilities towards privately fostered children. Responsibilities are discharged through a series of home visits and a link worker may be appointed to oversee the arrangement.
The purpose of home visits is to ensure that the children are well cared for in a safe and suitable environment. There may also be help and support available, through the local council and other agencies, to assist the carer(s).
If, however, the local council thinks that a placement is unsuitable, and the child could not be returned to the parents, then the council would have to decide what action to take to safeguard the child’s welfare. This may include providing support to the carer, but may also, in some circumstances, mean taking the child into care.
What are the responsibilities of professionals?
Professionals must notify the Local Authority if you know that a child is being privately fostered. It is vital that that the Local Authority is aware of such arrangements so that they can safeguard the welfare of potentially vulnerable children. Ideally, notification should come from the carer or parent, but professionals can also play an important role in identifying these arrangements and in getting key messages across to carers and parents who may be unaware of their responsibilities.
If you know that a child is being privately fostered, and you think that the Local Authority is unaware, please notify the Local Authority or encourage the carer or parent of the child to do so. You will not be breaching confidentiality, and may help to secure the welfare of the child(ren) concerned. It is good practice to inform the carer and/or parent that you are making a referral, but not doing so should not delay your referral.
Any professional who becomes aware that a child is being privately fostered should call Duty and Advice on 01484 414 960.
What will Kirklees Local Authority do once they have been notified of a private fostering arrangement?
Upon notification, it is up to the Duty & Advice Service, in conjunction with other agencies, to satisfy themselves that the welfare of privately fostered children is promoted and that they are safe. The service also has to be satisfied that the private foster carers are suitable and ensure that the carers receive any support and guidance that they may need to help them care for the child.
The Duty & Advice service will conduct an assessment. Children, young people, parents and carers and professionals known to the child/young person will be involved in all aspects of the process.
Attention will be given to the suitability of the private foster carer and the assessment will also consider a range of other factors, such as:
- the suitability of the accommodation and of other members of the household
- health and safety matters
- emotional well-being
- educational and health provision
- cultural issues.
Safeguarding is given priority. The assessment takes account of Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks and searches with other agencies about all adult members of the household.
A child or young person can be removed from a private foster placement if there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.
Although the primary responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child rests with the parent, the regulations are intended to help protect vulnerable children who are likely to be cared for longer term in households other than their own.
What are the responsibilities of birth parents?
- Retain parental responsibility; initiating and participating in all the decision making processes in the placement.
- Provide the prospective carer with as much information about the child as possible, including health records, dietary preferences, school records, hobbies, religion and ethnicity.
- If the prospective carer has not already done so, advise the local council of the private fostering arrangement.
What are the responsibilities of a private foster carer?
- Advise their local council of their intention to foster a child at least six weeks in advance or, where an emergency placement is made, within 48 hours of the child’s arrival.
- Notify their local council when a child leaves their care, stating why and giving the name and address of the person into whose care the child has been moved.
How can private foster carers get support?
Private foster carers may approach their local council for help and support with looking after the child(ren) in their care.
- There may, in certain cases, be financial help available through ‘Section 17′ assistance for children deemed to be ‘in need.’ (Section 17 refers to the part of the Children Act which provides for such assistance, which may include a range of support services or, exceptionally, financial assistance.)
- There may be local support networks for carers.
- Carers may be able to claim social security benefits such as Child Benefit and possibly Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance if in receipt of Child Benefit. Enquiries should be made to the carers’ local Benefits Agency Office
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