Private fostering

A private fostering arrangement is when a child (under the age of 16 years, or under 18 years if they are disabled) lives with, and is cared for by, someone who is not their parent or close relative for 28 days or more. The term ‘close relative’ includes grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, half-relatives, step parents and people related by marriage. It is usually a private arrangement between the child’s parents (or someone with parental responsibility for the child) and the carers, and without any initial involvement from Children’s Services. Private fostering arrangements can arise for many reasons, for example, schooling, health care, family breakdown, parents’ antisocial work patterns and extended holidays.

Local authorities have a legal duty to safeguard the health and welfare of children living in private fostering arrangements. For us to meet our statutory responsibilities for the child, we need to know that they are being privately fostered.

The law relating to private fostering

Private foster carers do not have parental responsibility but do provide a home and day-to-day care for the child. Overall responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child remains with the parent or guardian.

Although these arrangements are private, the child’s parents, private foster carers and Children’s Services have some legal duties and responsibilities laid down by the Children Act 1989, the Children Act 2004 and the Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005.

Role of parents (or person with parental responsibility for the child)

The parent or legal guardian of a child being privately fostered must:

  • advise the private foster carer’s local Children’s Services of the private fostering arrangement at least six weeks in advance or, if an arrangement is made in an emergency, within 48 hours, and at the end of the arrangement
  • notify local Children’s Services within 48 hours when the care arrangements change

Parents are responsible for ensuring that the arrangement is suitable for their child. They retain parental responsibility and continue to be involved in decisions about their child’s care and future.

They must give the person they have chosen to look after their child as much information about the child as possible. They should make a formal agreement about essential aspects of care (for example, health, education, religious and cultural needs, discipline). This should be set down in writing.

Contact Children’s Services on 0118 937 3641 to let us know about a private fostering arrangement.

Role of private foster carers

The private foster carer must:

  • advise their local Children’s Services of their intention to privately foster a child at least six weeks before the start of the arrangement or, if the child is placed in an emergency, within 48 hours of the arrangement
  • notify the local Children’s Services within 48 hours when a child leaves their care and provide the name and address of the person now responsible for caring for the child
  • allow a social worker to visit them and the child regularly, and to assess the home where the child is cared for is appropriate

Private foster carers provide the child with a home and day-to-day care. Care arrangements (for example, education, health, religious and cultural needs, discipline) should be agreed in writing with the parents before the arrangement starts.

Contact Children’s Services on 0118 937 3641 to let us know about a private fostering arrangement.

Children’s Services

Local authorities have a duty to check that children living in private fostering arrangements are safe and well cared for.

Reading Children’s Services’ duties include:

  • checking the suitability of private foster carers and assessing the circumstances surrounding the arrangement
  • making regular visits to the child in their private foster home to check on their welfare and monitor the overall standard of care provided – this includes listening to the child’s wishes and feelings
  • ensuring that private foster carers get the advice and support they need to keep the child safe and well
  • providing preventative and support services where appropriate
  • continuing to provide support services to the child after the end of the private fostering arrangement, if they are needed

Private foster carers do not have to be ‘approved’ by Children’s Services but we do have legal powers to take action if we have serious concerns with a private fostering arrangement. We can make a private foster carer take action to sort out any issues with the quality of care or accommodation (for example, install fire guards or smoke alarms, or accept preventative and support services). If our concerns are more significant, we can end the placement and return the child to their parents, or take the child into local authority care.

People working with children

If you work with children and think one may be privately fostered, you should ask the parents and/or private foster carers if they have notified Children’s Services of the private fostering arrangements. If they haven’t, inform them that it is their legal responsibility to do so and encourage them to contact Children’s Services.

Although notification should come from the child’s parents (or guardians) and carers, to ensure all private fostering arrangements are brought to the attention of Children’s Services, please contact us yourself.

If you have concerns that a child may be at risk of harm you should follow Child Protection procedures.

Contact Children’s Services on 0118 937 3641 to let us know about a private fostering arrangement.