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Private fostering

Private fostering occurs when a child or young person aged under 16 years, or 18 years if the child is disabled, is looked after for 28 days or more by someone who is not a parent, guardian or close relative. The term 'close relative' includes parents, step-parents, aunts, uncles or grandparents.

It is a private arrangement made by a parent - or those with parental responsibility for a child - for someone to care for the child because they are unable to do so.

There are many reasons why a child may need to be in a private fostering arrangement for either a short period or longer term. These could include:

  • A child living with a friend of their family because of separation, divorce or arguments at home.
  • A teenager living with the family of a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • A child living with a school friend's family because of a family breakdown.
  • A child needing to be cared for because their parent has a long-term illness and is unable to look after the child.
  • A child being sent to the United Kingdom by their parents who are living overseas, for education or healthcare reasons.

Why do social workers need to be involved?

Under current legislation, local authorities have a duty to check that all children who are living in private foster care arrangements are safe and well cared for. In the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, the responsibility for children living in private foster care arrangements within the borough is shared between the Children's Services Teams in the Early Help and Safeguarding Service.

Our duties include:

  • Checking the suitability of private foster carers and investigating the circumstances surrounding each private fostering arrangement.
  • Making regular visits to each privately fostered child in their 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 that they need to keep the children who are placed with them safe and well.
  • Providing preventative and support services where appropriate.

Any agency that becomes aware of a private fostering arrangement must immediately notify the local authority in writing of the arrangement and must inform the parent and private foster carer of their intention to do so.  

Therefore, if you believe that a child is possibly being privately fostered and you do not know if the local authority is aware, please contact the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub. You will not be breaching confidentiality as this duty to inform us of your knowledge of a private arrangement is covered by the children in need information sharing protocol.

What is private fostering? 

A child privately fostered is where a private arrangement has been made for the care of the child by the child’s parent (or someone with parental responsibility without the involvement of a local authority or organisation). The child would be living with a carer who is not a close relative on a full time basis for 28 days or more. Private fostering applies to children up to the age of 16 or 18 if the child is disabled.

Close relative is defined as: grandparent, brother, sister, uncle, aunt (whether full or half blood by marriage) or step parent (by marriage or civil partnership) of the child. Close relatives do not include great-aunts or uncles, great grandparents or cousins. 

The arrangement is classed as private fostering if it is expected to last for more than 28 days on a full time basis.

Examples of private fostering include: 

Local children living apart from their families

  • Children whose parents work or study long and/or anti-social hours which makes it difficult to use ordinary day care or after-school care.
  • Children whose parents are not able to care for them due to illness, abuse, divorce, separation or imprisonment.
  • Single parents who are in hospital for four weeks or more (planned or unplanned) and who arrange care for their child with people not defined as a close relative.

Children staying with friends because of family difficulties

  • Children living with a friend's family or cousin as a result of parental separation, divorce or difficulties at home.
  • Teenagers living with their boyfriend or girlfriend’s family.
  • Teenagers ‘sofa surfing’ at a friend’s house because they don’t get on with their own family.

Children with parents overseas

  • Children sent to the UK for education or healthcare by birth parents from overseas.
  • Children from overseas staying with a host family while attending a language school.
  • Overseas children at boarding school who do not return home during the holidays and stay with a host family in the UK.

Children with safeguarding risks

  • Trafficked children.
  • Children brought from outside the UK with a view to adoption.

Children brought into the UK for adoption are classed as privately fostered until formal notice of adoption is undertaken. Children who arrive in the UK seeking asylum, either unaccompanied or with adults who are not close relatives (see definition above), including those children trafficked, are all classed as being privately fostered. 

Privately fostered children are not children in care and they should not be referred to as such.

Parental duty in relation to private fostering

The parent(s) (or those with parental responsibility) and the private foster carer have a duty to notify Achieving for Children's Single Point of Access (SPA) of the name and address of the private foster carer six weeks before the start of the private fostering arrangement. 

If the arrangement is already in place, parents and private foster carers must notify Achieving for Children's SPA. If the arrangement is made in an emergency and is intended to last more than 28 days, this information should be provided within 48 hours of the child being placed.

The role of professionals, partner agencies and the community

There will be a large number of professionals and people working directly with families who will all be aware of children and young people who are living with people who are not close relatives. These people could be working in school and educational settings, health settings such as GP practices, local health centres, pharmacies, or as health professionals in schools and children’s centres, as well as working in the community and in voluntary organisations.

Health, education and other professionals have a responsibility to report suspected or known private fostering arrangements, as detailed in ‘Replacement Children Act Guidance on Private Fostering 2005 paragraph 2.6’. To help them to do this all professionals should ask themselves the question ‘Who has parental responsibility for any child we are involved with?’ 

All professionals should notify Achieving for Children if they become aware of or think that a child is living in a private fostering arrangement. This is not to say that the arrangement will need to stop following notification, but Achieving for Children must assure itself that the child’s welfare is being safeguarded and promoted in this living arrangement. 

Achieving for Children’s duty in relation to private fostering

Achieving for Children has a duty placed on it by the Children’s Act (2005) and Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005 to ensure the welfare of privately fostered children notified to them is being promoted and safeguarded, as well as to give advice to those caring for them. Achieving for Children is also required to raise awareness of notification requirements to partners and involve them in these activities. As part of its duty to keep children and young people who are being privately fostered, Achieving for Children must keep them updated about what it means to be privately fostered and what support is available to them, for example, the advocacy service. 

Achieving for Children will respond to all notifications by visiting the home where the child is being privately fostered, speaking to the child or young person alone and completing an assessment regarding the suitability of the private fostering within seven days of the notification. All private foster carers and other members of the household over 16 years old must consent to a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

If the initial assessment and checks are satisfactory, then a social worker will visit every six weeks during the first year to check that the child or young person’s needs are met, with additional visits if deemed necessary. If the arrangement lasts more than 12 months in subsequent years, the visits will be at least three monthly with additional visits if deemed necessary. 

Achieving for Children will act by following child protection procedures if at any stage the child or young person is deemed to be unsafe or the private foster carer refuses to cooperate with any checks or visits.  

Key contacts

You can contact the SPA for further information and advice in relation to private fostering. If you suspect that a child is living in a private fostering arrangement or are not sure, please contact the SPA for advice on  01628 683150 or email [email protected]