June White is Senior Practitioner for Private Fostering, part of the Family and Friends Fostering Team of Hertfordshire County Council.
In this guest blog for us, she helps explain what a private fostering arrangement is, and how important it is for local authorities to be made aware when these arrangements are made.
How many children do you know who are living apart from their parents? Did you know that this could be a private fostering arrangement?
Private fostering is when any child or young person under the age of 16 (or 18 if they have a disability) who has been living away from their parents for more than 28 days, with someone who is not an immediate relative or who has legal parental responsibility.
There may be many reasons why children might be living in these private arrangements which could include:
- Breakdown in family relationships
- Gone to live with family friend or boyfriend or girlfriend
- Illness, physical, mental, drug/alcohol issues
- Parents working or studying abroad
- Death of a parent
- Children sent to the UK for education purposes, where parents remain overseas
- Exchange Language students living with host families
Many parents make these private arrangements for their children to be cared for, but they and the carers may not be aware of the legal requirement to notify the arrangement to the Local Authority in the area the child or young person is living in.
While we appreciate there may be some reluctance and anxiety about contacting the local authority, we recognise the majority of parents and private foster carers want the best for the children they are caring for and the arrangements are entirely satisfactory.
However there may be some children living in private arrangements who may be at risk of neglect, emotional and physical harm, exploitation (sexual, domestic or financial) or who may have been brought to this country legally or illegally to live with someone who is not a parent or immediate relative and may subsequently find themselves with no legal status or right to remain in the country.
Unless we are informed of private fostering arrangements, there is a risk that some children and young people may fall through the net and not be safeguarded against serious harm, may not be having their needs met, or at the very extreme, could result in death (as in the case of Victoria Climbié)
Once the local authority is notified of private fostering arrangements, we have a duty to assess the suitability of the arrangement, the carers, the household and the accommodation. Once this is done, we will continue to visit to offer advice and support to that child/young person, the carers and parents and ensure the safety and wellbeing of children/young people living in such arrangements.
How faith groups and communities might be able to help in this important area of children’s safeguarding work?
- By supporting the local authority to raise awareness and to share information and knowledge of private fostering via displaying leaflets/posters, inclusion of information in news letters or invitation to speak at local groups.
- If you become aware of a potential private fostering arrangement within your community, to reassure and encourage parents and/or carers to contact their local authority’s Children’s Services; but if they are reluctant or fail to do so, to notify the local authority of a potential arrangement yourself.
How the local authorities can help?
Within all local authorities there will be either a team or a dedicated Private Fostering Social Worker who has statutory responsibility for all children living in private fostering arrangements and they can be contacted for advice and guidance.
Once notified of an private fostering arrangement, local authorities will assess the arrangement, the carers and will be able to provide ongoing advice and support to the children/young people, carers and parents.
You can contact HCC Private Fostering on 01442 453595 or at family&[email protected], where they’d be happy to provide you with further information, advice or guidance, or point you towards Private Fostering services in your local area.