What is private fostering?
When a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled) is cared for 28 days or more by someone who is not their parent or a close relative this is called a private fostering arrangement. It is a private arrangement between a parent and the carer. The local council is not usually involved but the carer or parent should notify the Council.
Close relatives are defined as grandparents, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether of full blood or half blood or by marriage) or step-parent (a parent’s unmarried partner is not a step-parent in this context).
The London Borough of Merton has a legal duty to ensure that any child or young person is safe, well looked after and does not come to any harm in a private fostering arrangement, by making sure that he/she and their carer are visited regularly and offered advice and guidance when needed.
Watch this clip on private fostering
- Are you looking after someone else’s child? – Leaflet for adults and carers (PDF)
- Are you living away from home and away from your parents? – Leaflet for young people (PDF)
- Are you sending you child to the UK for schooling? (PDF)
What you must do
The law requires you to notify Merton’s Children’s Services within 6 weeks of:
Your child going to stay with someone who is not a close relative for 28 days or more, or
You are going to look after someone else’s child for 28 days or more
If you are a professional who becomes aware of a child in any private fostering situation – whether proposed or where the placement has begun – you must advise the private fostering carer, the parents and any other person involved in making the arrangements to contact the office below. You should advise to them that it is a potential offence not to do so.
How to notify Merton Children’s Social Care
If you are aware of a child who may be in a private fostering arrangement, or who may potentially be placed in a private fostering arrangement you must contact the MASH Team on 020 8545 4226 or 020 8545 4227
How can a practitioner or agency recognise private fostering?
Private fostering is an arrangement that is made privately and does not involve the local authority. For example, parents may arrange for their child to be cared for by an extended member of their family, a neighbour, friend or even someone unknown to the child. Many private foster carers and parents are not aware of the notification requirements. As a result, a significant number of these care arrangements remain hidden. Private fostering can be helpful for a child but may leave some children vulnerable to abuse or neglect.
There is a legal requirement for private foster carers and parents to notify the local authority of all private fostering arrangements. It is a potential offence not to notify the local authority, without reasonable cause.
Private fostering situations can include:
- Children or young people who are sent to this country for education by their birth parents from overseas
- Teenagers living with a friend’s family because they have fallen out with their parents
- Children staying with another family because their parent has been hospitalised
- A child from overseas staying with a host family while attending school, or overseas students at boarding school who stay with a host family over the holidays – for more than 28 days
What Merton Children’s Social Care must do
The council has a legal requirement to assess and review all private fostering arrangements notified to them.
Our overall aim is to ensure that all private foster placements benefit children and that those who plan to look after them, their parents and the children or young people themselves are aware of the help and support that they can be provided with. To achieve this we will:
- Check on the suitability of private foster carers.
- Make regular visits to the child.
- Ensure that advice and support is made available when needed.
- Monitor the overall standard of care