Kent County Council is concerned lack of awareness about private fostering is leading to ‘invisible children’ who are not getting the support they need.
Private fostering is when someone is caring for a child under-16 or an under-18 with disabilities who is not a relative.
These carers are required by law to tell Kent County Council about these arrangements so they can be kept safe and get all the support they or their carers need to do the best for their welfare.
Most private foster carers do the best for the child in their care but if no one knows about the arrangement, that child can be hidden and vulnerable. Studies suggest that more than half of private fostering arrangements are not known to the local authorities.
This week (7-14 July) is Private Fostering Week and Kent County Council wants to raise awareness about the issue.
Peter Oakford, KCC Cabinet Member for Specialist Children’s Services, said:
“The majority of private foster carers step in at a very difficult time and do a really good job. We need to know about them so we can make sure they are aware of all the support they can get to help them do the best for the child. If we don’t know about these arrangements, the child is put in a very vulnerable position and, in a very few cases, they may be in danger. We would urge anyone who is privately fostering to let us know or if you suspect a child is being privately fostered and the local authority is not aware, please get in touch.”
KCC fears that private fostering is being under-reported, with 56 new notifications between March 2013 and 2014, a reduction of 27% over the past three years. The true number of children being privately fostered is unknown but the British Association for Adoption and Fostering estimate it is between 15,000 and 20,000 in the UK.
Private fostering is a private arrangement made by the parents for someone who is not a relative (step parent, grandparent, step grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt) to care for their child. It could be due to parents being ill, going abroad or to prison, a relationship breakdown or perhaps a child being brought to the UK to study English. No exchange of money needs to take place to make it a private fostering arrangement, although some parents may provide money to the carers.
Anyone who knows a child is being privately fostered should tell the parent or carer to report the arrangement to Kent County Council at least six weeks before it happens or within 48 hours if the arrangement has been made in an emergency.
Referrals can be made by telephone on 03000 41 11 11.
If a professional knows or believes that KCC has not been told of the arrangement, they should call Specialist Children’s Services on the same number.
More information can be found on the Kent Safeguarding Children Board website www.kscb.org.uk