3.10.2 Private Fostering
AMENDMENTThis chapter was amended in July 2019 to reflect updated local structure/terminology.
Under the Children Act 1989, there is a legal requirement for local authorities to be notified of any private fostering arrangements. Children's Social Care, within the local authority, has a duty to undertake assessments and checks, and also provide support and advice to the child and to the private foster carer. Privately fostered children may be particularly vulnerable. This is emphasised by the fact that Victoria Climbie was a privately fostered child, who was not adequately safeguarded.
In Sheffield, private fostering work is undertaken by the Connected Persons Team (CPT) in Children's Specialist Services. As well as working with children, carers and families, they also work with Sheffield Children Safeguarding Partnership to raise awareness with practitioners and the public about private fostering and the legal duty that exists to notify them of such arrangements.
This guidance has been developed by CPT, SCSP and other partner agencies, for practitioners who think that a child may be privately fostered. It includes a definition of private fostering, common examples of when a child may be fostered, what to look out for in such situations, what action the practitioner should take, and contact details for relevant organisations.
Consideration should always be given to equalities issues for the child or young person, their carers and their natural parent(s) when appropriate. Issues of gender, ethnicity, age, religion, culture, sexuality, and disability should always be considered in private fostering arrangements.
Private fostering is when a child under the age of 16 (or under 18 if the child is disabled) is cared for by someone who is not their parent or a 'close relative'. This is a private arrangement made between a parent and a carer, for 28 days or more. 'Close relatives' are defined as parents, step-parents (including civil partners), grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles or aunts (whether of full blood, half blood or by marriage or civil partnership). In a private fostering arrangement, the parent retains Parental Responsibility.
People become private foster carers for all sorts of reasons. Private foster carers can be a friend of the child's family, or be someone who is willing to care for a child of a family they do not know. It is not private fostering if the placement was made by a social worker who has intervened on behalf of the local authority.
3. Private Fostering Legislation
The duties of local authorities (LA) in relation to privately fostered children are laid out in Part IX of the Children Act 1989. The Act places a duty on parents and private foster carers to notify the LA of a private fostering arrangement. It also states that the local authority has a responsibility to satisfy itself that the child is being safeguarded and their welfare promoted, and that their carers are given appropriate advice and support.
However, the local authority can only act when it becomes aware of a private fostering arrangement. It has become clear, since the introduction of the Act, that there are many such arrangements that do not come to the attention of the local authority. Whilst the majority of private fostering arrangements will not place a child at risk, some will not ensure that a child is properly safeguarded. Therefore the Children Act 2004 made amendments to the Children Act 1989 to tighten up notification requirements and the duties of local authorities. This now includes promoting awareness in their area of the notification requirements, and monitoring their effectiveness in responding to notifications.
In 2005, National Minimum Standards on Private Fostering were introduced. These require local authorities to have a Statement of Purpose in regard to Private Fostering. Safeguarding partners functions also include a specific remit to promote the safety and welfare of children who are privately fostered. SCSP works closely with the CPT, and receives annual reports about numbers of notifications and other work that has been undertaken each year in relation to raising awareness. For more information see Information for local authorities about Private Fostering.
The Children Act (1989 and 2004) also created a number of offences in connection with private fostering, including failure to notify an arrangement or to comply with any requirements or prohibition imposed by the local authority. These can be found here: Children Act 1989 Section 70 Offences.
4. Examples of Private Fostering Situations
Practitioners who think that a child may be privately fostered can seek advice from the Connected Persons Team (CPT) or the Sheffield Safeguarding Children Advisory Service - see Local Contacts.
Examples of private fostering situations may include:
- Children who are sent to this country for education or health care, by their birth parents who live abroad;
- Children who live with a friend's family as a result of parental separation, divorce or arguments at home, or parental ill health;
- Teenagers who are living apart from their family, for example due to arguments or other difficulties at home, or who chose to live with a friend;
- Children whose parents study or work involves unsociable hours, which makes it difficult for them to use ordinary day care or after-school care;
- Children who are on holiday exchanges or language placements;
- Children whose parent(s) is serving a prison sentence.
There may be particular equalities issues, as highlighted in Section 1, Introduction (last paragraph) which should be taken into consideration in the above examples.
A child who is Looked After or placed in any residential home, hospital or school (where they are receiving full-time education) is excluded from the definition.
However, Children under 16 who spend more than 2 weeks in residence during holiday time in a school, become privately fostered children for the purposes of the legislation during that holiday period.
(Note: the local authority may exempt any person from giving written notice either for a specified period or indefinitely. This exemption may be revoked in writing at any time).
5. Signs that a Child is Privately Fostered
Becoming aware that a child is being privately fostered requires some vigilance by practitioners. Consider this possibility dependent on your practitioner role.
In the neighbourhood:
- A child not previously known suddenly starts living with a neighbour;
- A child who lives in the neighbourhood suddenly disappears;
- A neighbour has a number of different children staying with them.
At school, in an early years setting, or youth club:
- A parent has a 'niece' or 'nephew' staying with them for a while;
- A child suddenly disappears without warning;
- A child says they are staying with a friend or relative, or even a stranger;
- A child says that there is another child staying at home with them.
In the doctor's surgery or at a health clinic:
- A patient attends with a child who has not been seen before;
- A patient attends regularly with different children who they refer to as their 'niece' or 'nephew';
- A child mentions that the person they are with is not their parent.
6. Action to be taken by Practitioners concerned that a Child is being Privately Fostered
All practitioners involved with children and young people have an important role in relation to privately fostered children. This may include those working with adults, such as probation officers or substance misuse workers, where children may also be present in a household.
If you think that a child may be privately fostered, you can make a significant contribution to safeguard such children by:
- Talking to the adult(s) caring for the child. Check if they are aware of the legal obligation to notify Sheffield City Council that they are caring for a child. They may not know that what they are doing is private fostering;
- Give them a leaflet about private fostering - these can be provided by the CPT (Tel: 0114 273 6489);
- Reassure the carer that if they have been caring for the child for a while, they will be approached sensitively. The local authority in Sheffield wants to support and help private fostering arrangements as well as fulfil its legal obligation in regard to safeguarding children;
- If the adults are aware of the need to notify but refuse to comply, then you should say you have a duty to pass on this information. Consent is not required;
- If in doubt you should ask to see birth certificates and / or asylum registration cards, or refer directly to the appropriate Children's Social Care office - see Local Contacts.
You also have a duty in relation to:
- Checking with CPT to ensure that the arrangement has been notified, as failure to notify can place a child at risk;
- Contribute to the assessment of the suitability of the arrangement by providing relevant information about the child or carer when this is requested by CPT;
- Monitor the child's welfare and progress, and provide support and guidance to the child's carer in accordance with your agency's or practitioner remit;
- Be involved in ongoing liaison with CPT to address any welfare concerns or unmet needs of the child.
Where required a translation of the leaflets into other languages can be provided.
Practitioners who think that a child may be privately fostered can seek advice from the CPT, Sheffield Safeguarding Children Advisory Service (0114 205 3535) or the relevant Children's Social Care office.
If at any time you are concerned that a child is likely to suffer Significant Harm, see Making a Referral following the Identification of Child Safety and Welfare Concerns Procedure.
7. Disqualifications from Private Foster Caring
A local authority can prohibit certain individuals from privately fostering a child. These include:
- A parent who has had a child removed from his/her care, or has been prevented from having a child live with them by order of a court, such as a care order made under section 31(1)(a) of the Children Act 1989.
Also, anyone who:
- Has been involved in managing, or had a financial interest in, a voluntary or private children's home which was de registered;
- Has been refused registration, or had registration cancelled, in respect of nursery, day care, or child-minding;
- Has had prohibitions imposed in relation to private fostering;
- Holds a conviction for various offences against a child which are listed in regulations (see Children Act 1989 Section 70 Offences);
- Lives in a household where any person who is disqualified in accordance with the above is also living or is employed.
A person is not automatically barred from privately fostering. In very exceptional circumstances, the local authority can decide that the prohibition should not apply.
The local authority also has powers to prohibit a person from privately fostering when the premises where the child will live are not considered to be suitable.
Appendix 1: Flowchart of Notification Process for a Privately Fostered Child
Appendix 2: Private Fostering - Frequently Asked Questions
Private fostering is defined in law as an arrangement that is made privately. That is to say without the involvement of the local authority. It applies to the care of a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled) by someone other than a parent or close relative with the intention it should last for 28 days or more.
Who can be defined as a private foster carer?
Private foster carers may come from the extended family such as a cousin or great aunt, or they may be a friend of the family, the parent of a friend of the child or someone previously unknown to the child's family.
When is it not a private fostering arrangement?
It is not a private fostering arrangement if the child is placed with a close relative defined under the Children Act 1989, such as a parent, grandparent, brother, sister, aunt or uncle (whether of 'full blood' or 'half-blood' or by marriage or civil partnership) or step-parent (including civil partners).
Is there a time limit to the arrangement?
To be defined as 'private fostering', the intention is that the period of care will last longer than 28 days and should be continuous, but that continuity is not considered to be broken by occasional short breaks.
How is responsibility shared?
The private foster carer becomes responsible for providing the overall day-to-day care of the child, which will promote and safeguard the child's welfare.
Private foster carers rights to do anything with respect to taking care of the child come from the voluntary agreement made with the person who does have parental responsibility.
Overarching responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the child's welfare still remains with the parent or other person with parental responsibility.
How do the local authority become involved?
The Children Act 1989 places a duty:
- On parents to notify the local authority of an intention to place a child in private foster care. This notification should be not less than 6 weeks before the arrangement is due to start. If it is to begin within 6 weeks, they must notify the local authority immediately;
- On a person who proposes to privately foster a child to notify the local authority in writing at least 6 weeks before the arrangement is to begin or where the arrangement is to begin within six weeks, to notify the local authority immediately.
On teachers, health and other professionals to notify the local authority of a privately fostered arrangement that comes to their attention, where they are not satisfied that the local authority have been or will be notified of the arrangements.
Make sure you know where the child is living and with whom, and their relationship to the child
Phone the Connected Persons Team 0114 273 6489 for advice if you are unsure whether to notify the Local Authority
Appendix 3: The Role of Children's Specialist Services and the Connected Persons Team (CPT)
When Children's Specialist Services have been notified of an arrangement, there will be a joint visit from CPT and a fieldwork Social Worker within 5 working days.
CPT and the fieldwork Social Worker, as the representative of Sheffield City Council, will jointly carry out an assessment (Assessment for Privately Fostered Arrangements) and statutory checks on the private foster carer and other household members. This also has to be undertaken within a designated timescale. The assessment will include the following:
- The suitability of the carer to provide care to the child;
- How specific needs of the child will be met by the carer;
- How the parent or person with parental responsibility will exercise their parental responsibilities during the time of the arrangement;
- Consideration of equalities issues for the child or young person, their carers and their parent(s) as appropriate (see Paragraph 4 of Section 1, Introduction).
The assessment should be informed by consultation with all relevant agencies involved with the carer and their family.
The outcome of some assessments may be that the criteria for private fostering are not met. In such cases, the Private Fostering Social Worker will refer to other agencies as identified as appropriate. The case will then be closed by the CPT.
If the criteria for private fostering are met, then the private fostering procedures will be followed by FACT, as per Children's Specialist Services Procedures. These reflect regulations and national minimum standards.
In cases where the social worker and their manager are not satisfied that the welfare of child is being safeguarded and promoted, they will:
- Take whatever reasonable action is necessary to enable the care of the child to be undertaken by the parent, a person with parental responsibility for the child, or a relative, unless they consider this would not be in the child's best interests;
- Consider whether they should take any action in respect of the child, in accordance with the provisions of the Children Act 1989. This could include providing services under section 17 of the Act or initiating action under section 47 to protect the child.
For information about disqualifications from private foster caring, please see Appendix 3 and 4.
CPT has a duty to monitor the private fostering arrangement, and the child and the carer must be visited every six weeks in the first year and every twelve weeks in subsequent years. The CPT worker must ensure that the child is registered with a GP, and that appropriate arrangements for the child's education are in place.
They also have a duty to provide the private foster carer with whatever advice and guidance is necessary to assist them in caring for the child. This may include liasing with relevant agencies such as health, education, and Service Districts who may need to provide the child and carer with extra support to meet any additional needs. Benefits advice or signposting to other agencies is also provided.
CPT will continue to be involved with the private foster carer and the child for the duration of the arrangement. They will liaise with the parent or other person with parental responsibility as appropriate.
At the end of the arrangement, or annually if the child remains with the carer for longer than one year, feedback about the private fostering experience will be gathered from both the child and the carer. Their comments will be taken into consideration when reviewing CPT service delivery to children and private foster carers.At the end of the private fostering arrangement, CPT will refer the child and their parent / carer to other agencies if appropriate. The case will then be closed by CPT.