Private fostering is when a child under 16 (or under 18 if they are disabled) is living with someone who is not a close relative for 28 days or more.
This might be a friend, a great aunt, a cousin or someone else known to the child. A close relative is defined as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother or step-parent by marriage.
Many parents who have arranged for someone else to care for their child don’t realise that they have entered into a private fostering arrangement.
By law, parents and carers must notify their local authority if they have a private fostering arrangement in place. This is to keep vulnerable children safe and support families.
The following are examples of the type of situations where children and young people that might be involved in private fostering arrangements:
- Their parents are in ill health.
- They're from overseas and are visiting Britain for education or health care reasons.
- They're living with a friend's/boyfriend's/girlfriend’s family as a result of parental separation, divorce or arguments at home.
- Their parents work or study long or anti-social hours.
- They're on school holiday exchanges that last more than 28 days.
- They're on sports or music sponsorships and living away from their families.
As a local authority, it is our legal duty to make sure all private fostering arrangements are safe for the child or young person. Once we're informed of the arrangement, we check the suitability of private foster carers, make regular visits to the child or young person and ensure advice, help and support is available when needed.
Private foster carers are legally required to notify their council, but many do not know they have to. This means that we are often unable to check whether the child is being properly cared for.
It is vital that our private fostering team is aware of such arrangements, so that they can safeguard and promote the welfare of potentially vulnerable children.
Education, health and social care professionals play an important role by either:
- explaining to the relevant adults with parental responsibility their duty to notify us, or
- make a referral on behalf of the family
Even though a parent may make a private arrangement with another family, we, as a local authority, have a legal responsibility to ensure their child is safe and well cared for.
If you are thinking of placing your child in a private fostering arrangement, you must tell us at least six weeks before the arrangement starts.
In the case of an emergency placement that's expected to last longer than 28 days, you must tell us within 48 hours of the arrangement beginning.
If the arrangement has already started, you must contact us immediately.
It is an offence not to inform your local authority about a private fostering arrangement.
We will work together with the child or young person, the parents and the private foster carers to ensure that the best possible arrangements are in place for the child or young person.
- Arranging for a social worker to support the child/young person and their carer(s).
- Regularly visiting the child/young person and listening to what they want.
- Providing advice on benefits and other community or local services.
- Assessing the suitability of the carer(s). If the arrangement is deemed unsuitable, we will work with parents or those with parental responsibility to ensure the best plan for the child is in place.
- Helping to ensure that the child/young person is safe and well cared for and that their cultural needs are being met.
As a private arrangement, decision making responsibilities remain with parents or those with parental responsibility. However, as the primary carer for the child you would be expected to:
- provide a safe and caring place for the child/young person to live
- arrange appropriate medical and dental care for the child/young person in consultation with parents or those with parental responsibility
- make sure for the child/young person attends school regularly and that they receive appropriate educational opportunity to meet their full academic and social potential
- support the child/young person to maintain relationships with their friends and family where this is possible
- work together with the professionals involved with the child/young person
To notify us of a private fostering arrangement in Swindon, please contact us on 01793 466903 or email Swindonmash@swindon.gov.uk.
Information leaflets are available for children and young people, parents, private foster carers and host families. If you would like copies of the leaflets or posters, which are available in different languages, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.