SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies to children who are cared for by people other than their parent or close relative for more than 27 days and who are NOT subject to any order or arrangement that would place them in the care of the local authority.
A privately fostered child is a child under 16 (or 18 if Disabled) who is cared for by an adult who is not a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, step parent (including civil partnerships), sister or brother where the child is to be cared for in that person's home for 28 days or more.
A child who is looked after or placed in any residential home, hospital or school (where they are receiving full-time education) is excluded from the definition. In a private fostering arrangement, the parent retains parental responsibility.
However, Children under 16 who spend more than 2 weeks in residence during holiday time in a school, become privately fostered children for the purposes of the legislation during that holiday period. See also Schedule 8 (para 9) Children Act 1989.(Note: the local authority may exempt any person from giving written notice either for a specified period or indefinitely. This exemption may be revoked in writing at any time).
These children may come from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Their parents may send them to live with distant relatives or other casual acquaintances in the hope that the children will have “a better life” and receive a good education. In these situations parents may remain in the African country, and therefore be unable to exercise their Parental Responsibility effectively. The reason for the children entering the country, and perhaps their parentage, may not be clear at the port of entry because of anxiety about immigration restrictions. Practitioners have noted an increasing group of Caribbean children, in particular Jamaican children, whose parents are also still overseas or in some cases, who have died; these children are likely to be living with extended family or family friends.
Generally these children are babies or very young, their parents have demanding careers or jobs, work unsocial hours (e.g. in the restaurant trade) or may be studying to improve their prospects. They sometimes arrange for their children to be cared for by extended family members (but not members of the immediate family as defined in the Children Act 1989) or by other people known to them from within their own community. Others arrange for their children to be looked after by strangers, identified often through recommendation because the carer(s) have privately fostered other children, or through word of mouth or informal advertisement. Parents may have approached the Education and Children's Services Department hoping to find a carer but discover that only childminders are available and they cannot have the children overnight for any length of time - and the parents find the fees too expensive. These children, placed outside the community, are often placed trans-racially in rural areas and their carers may have little understanding of racial identity and the impact of broken attachments and separation.
These children may arrive in this country seeking asylum, travelling with other adults who may not even be known to their family in their country of origin, but because they were brought in by someone they were not considered “unaccompanied” at the time of arrival. Other children, who have acquired refugee status, may be living in similar situations. Their isolation, immigration status, lack of understanding of available services and lack of knowledge of the English language, will all contribute to their vulnerability.
These children are brought into this country for the benefit of adults. They may have been “bought” from their birth family in order to be sent as servants to more affluent families, sometimes from a similar background, or they may have been acquired for the purposes of child sexual exploitation. They are generally young teenagers, may not speak the language and are not easily identified as they rarely attend schools. These children are privately fostered by those adults with whom they are living, even though they do not act as parents or are seen as such by the children. These children are at great risk.
Children may live part from their parents for a range of different reasons. They may had had only one parent taking responsibility for them and, due to this parent’s death, imprisonment or working commitments away from home, the child may be living with former neighbours or relatives. Some infants and young children whose parents abuse drugs and alcohol may be left with different acquaintances for lengthy periods of time. Others may have parents with mental health problems or simply be unable or unwilling to care for children. Some Caribbean and African children who are born in the UK are cared for in their wider local community, which is an accepted cultural practice.
These children may be estranged from their own families, perhaps through behaviour their parents find unacceptable. They may have run away because they are unhappy or being abused or they may have been “thrown out” as a result of arguments at home. Sometime their parents’ own relationship may have broken down and the children are considered to be too disruptive to the reconstituted family relationships. Practitioners are observing that many privately fostered teenagers in this category appear to have similar histories and behavioural and emotional profiles to the children in the looked after system. Parents may have tried to get their children accommodated by the local authority without success. Others will have allowed their children to live with family friends or with their older sexual partners or the family home where their boyfriends/girlfriends live. Some of the adults these children find to live with will be grossly unsuitable.
Children may be studying English at day language schools and have come from a wide range of countries. Amongst the many thousands who do so, a significant number will stay with host families for periods exceeding the 28 day period or may move between host families for a total period exceeding 28 days which still therefore falls within the private fostering definition. The children’s knowledge of English or of “normal” English family life may be slight and they can be very vulnerable. The school may vet the families to some extent but others will have no safeguards in place at all. Other children may be on holiday exchanges.
Some children may not return to their parents during holidays, particularly where the parents are working overseas, and other people are caring for them.
Some charitable organisations and other individuals arrange for children to come into this country for a variety of purposes. These include holidays for disadvantaged children, education, medical treatment and sports trainees (e.g. football). During their stay, they may be placed with host families.
Some children bought into this country ostensibly for other reasons but may really be intended to be adopted. Others may form close relationship with the families caring for them and then adoption may be the plan. All of them would legally be defined as privately fostered until formal notice of intention to apply to adopt is given. In addition, some children who are also subject to a form of interim overseas adoption order or “entrustment” which will be finalised in due course in their country of origin are also considered to be privately fostered.
Where a child is to be placed with private foster carers, the local authority must be notified in writing at least 6 weeks before an arrangement begins. Where no prior notification of a placement is given, private foster carers must notify the local authority of the placement immediately.
The person making the notification should be asked to provide the following information:
In relation to notifications given by the private foster carer or proposed private foster carer, the following information should also be obtained:
Written notification must also be made to the local authority by the private foster carer within 48 hours of any change in circumstances, e.g. a change of address, a change in the household, a criminal conviction/disqualification or prohibition (see Section 9, Prohibition and Disqualification) in relation to any person in the household or any intention to foster another child privately.
Where notification is that the private foster carers have moved to live in the area of another local authority, the social worker must immediately pass to the new authority the name and address of the private foster carer, the name of the child being privately fostered, the name and address of the child's parents.
Where notification is that the placement has ended, the social worker should ascertain the name and address of the person now caring for the child and his or her relationship with the child.
Parents also have a duty to notify the local authority in writing of the ending of the placement including the name and address of the person into whose care the child has moved.
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.
When notification or information is received from any source that a child is privately fostered, this information must be passed to Children's Services office where the privately fostered child resides.
A social worker will be allocated to carry out the following initial tasks within one week of the notification:
During the initial visit, the social worker from the Assessment Service should:
Advise the private foster carer in relation to recording the child's development, particularly incorporating the following matters:
In the event of a refusal of any person to cooperate with the making of the necessary checks, the social worker should advise the private foster carers that they cannot be recommended as suitable and advise the parents of the reason why alternative arrangements will have to be made for the child.
Any action required by the local authority to secure the child's safety should be considered and legal advice sought as necessary.
If the initial visit takes place after the child's placement, the social worker should also:
After the visit, the social worker should complete a written report of the meeting and pass a copy to the Designated Manager (Private Fostering) for information.
The assessment of the foster carer should consider the foster carer’s ability to meet the child’s physical, emotional, educational, intellectual, social and behavioural needs through appropriate diet, play, exercise, stimulation, encouraging of relationships and social skills, understanding the importance of the child’s self-esteem and ability to work in partnership with the child’s parents.
The social worker undertaking the assessment must arrange for checks on the private foster carer, all members of the household and frequent visitors over 16 to be made with the Disclosure and Barring Service and Children's Services records (including for the areas of any previous addresses). The social worker should also seek written references and arrange to visit the personal referees.
The assessment will consider the following:
A report on the assessment should be presented to the Designated Manager (Private Fostering) for a decision to be made. Written notice of the decision must then be sent to the private foster carer and the parents, including any requirements, exemptions or prohibitions imposed - see Section 7, Imposing Requirements on Private Foster Carers, Section 8, Limit on Number of Children and Section 9, Prohibition and Disqualification.
If, at any stage of the assessment of the private foster carers, information is obtained which suggests that a child already placed with the private foster carer may be a child in need, the manager may authorise services under a child in need plan and/or an Assessment to be carried out alongside the assessment of the private foster carer.
In the event of a refusal of any person to cooperate with the making of the necessary checks, the social worker should advise the private foster carers that they cannot be recommended as suitable and advise the parents of the reason why alternative arrangements will have to be made for the child. Any action required by the local authority to secure the child's safety should be considered and legal advice sought as necessary.
If any information comes to light during the course of the private foster carer assessment, for example as a result of the Disclosure and Barring Service checks, which may preclude the person from fostering a child, the social worker should prepare a report to the Designated Manager (Private Fostering). Immediate consideration should also be given to the arrangements for the child and if necessary child protection procedures should be followed.
In the event that the parents decline to make alternative arrangements or where the parents cannot be found, the social worker should consider whether any action may be required by the local authority to secure the child's safety under Local Safeguarding Children Board Inter Agency Procedures and legal advice should be sought as necessary.
Financial support by the local authority to sustain an otherwise satisfactory placement may be considered and where appropriate, the social worker should seek the approval of the relevant manager for such assistance to be given.
Once the approval in principle has been given, the social worker should arrange for the private foster carers to complete a financial assessment.
Once the completed financial assessment form has been received, it should be sent to the relevant manager for the calculation to be completed and the level determined in accordance with the scales agreed from time to time.
The relevant manager will confirm the amount of the financial support in writing to the carers once the financial assessment is complete.
The payments should be part of a Child in Need Plan. See Child in Need Plans and Reviews Procedure.
Where appropriate, reports to the Designated Manager (Private Fostering) can include recommendations for requirements to be imposed on the private foster carers, for example to restrict the approval to an individual child or to limit the number, age or gender of children who may be cared for privately. Requirements may also relate to the standard of accommodation, health and safety matters and/or practical matters such as equipment. A requirement may include a time-scale within which the foster carer must take the necessary action.
A requirement may be varied, removed or added at any time.
Any requirements imposed must be specified in writing, together with reasons. Written notice of any requirements imposed, together with the reasons, will be sent to the foster carer and to the parent by the social worker responsible for the assessment. The foster carer will also be advised of the right to appeal against the requirement to the Magistrates' Court.
The maximum number of children privately fostered in any one household must not exceed 3 unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Any application for exemption from this limit must be made to the Designated Manager (Private Fostering). The application must contain the following information:
Exemptions will only be granted in relation to named children and will cease when the named children leave the placement.
Where an exemption is granted this will be confirmed in writing to the private foster carers.
A decision can be made to prohibit the proposed private foster carer from fostering on the basis that they are not suitable and/or the premises are unsuitable.
The fact that a private Foster Carer is a disqualified person (foster carer) is a good reason upon which to seek a prohibition.
Where the social worker considers that it would be appropriate to approve a private foster carer despite the fact that he or she or a person in the household is disqualified, a written report must be presented to the Designated Manager (Private Fostering) for consideration.
Where a decision is made to prohibit a private foster carer from caring for a child, reasons for the decision must be recorded. Written notice of the decision, together with the reasons, must be sent by hand or recorded delivery post to the private foster carer and to the parent by the social worker responsible for the assessment. The private foster carer will also be advised of the right to appeal against the decision to the Magistrates' Court.
Discussion should also take place with the parent as to the making of alternative arrangements for the child.
Where requirements which have been imposed are not complied with, the social worker must consider whether support should be provided to ensure compliance and/or consider whether to report further to the Designated Manager (Private Fostering) recommending that the private foster carer be prohibited from caring for the child, in which case the procedure for prohibitions as set out above must be followed.
Visits by a social worker must be made to the child and the private foster carer at the foster home within one week of the placement, or the date when notification was received if later, and then visits will be made every six weeks in the first year by a social worker.
In subsequent years, visits must be at least three monthly.
The need to visit more frequently will be decided by the social worker and his or her manager depending on the circumstances and the need to visit unannounced and/or to choose times when all members of the household are likely to be present should also be considered.
Additional visits should be arranged at the request of the child or the private foster carer.
The child must be seen alone by the social worker on each visit unless this is not appropriate having regard to the young age of the child or if the child does not wish to see the social worker alone. The child's bedroom should be seen on some visits.
The purpose of and matters to be discussed at the first visit after the child's placement are set out in Section 4, Initial Visit to Private Foster Carers.
The overall purpose of all visits is to encourage the maintenance and improvement of child care standards and check that the child's needs are met within the foster placement and in particular:
A report on every visit must be made by the social worker. The report must state whether the child was seen and if so, whether the child was seen alone. If the child was not seen, the reasons must be recorded. The record must comment on the child's welfare and how the placement is progressing including any views expressed by the private foster carer and the child. It must also contain a recommendation about the continued suitability of the fostering arrangement and whether any action should be taken and/or requirements on the private foster carer.
The report must be reviewed by the manager.
Where there are concerns about the child's care, the parents should be advised and consideration should be given to invoking the Local Safeguarding Children Board Inter Agency Procedures.
The suitability of the private foster carer and the private fostering arrangement is reviewed every six months via the Private Fostering Panel, which is chaired by the relevant Service Manager.
Where local authority foster carers notify their intention to privately foster a child, the above procedure should be followed.
In these circumstances, a supervising social worker will normally carry out the assessment.
The foster carers should be advised of the differences between their two roles.
Consideration will need to be given to the implications for any Looked After Child already placed with the foster carer and contact should be made by the supervising social worker involved with the social workers for such children.
Consideration should also be given to the future placement of any looked after children particularly having regard to the usual fostering limit of three children.
Parents have a duty to notify the local authority of the ending of the placement including the name and address of the person into whose care the child has moved.
Unless a young person has a disability, private fostering ends at 16. Children's Services will review the young person's circumstances and future plans as they approach 16. Where a young person remains with the private foster carers after the age of 16, but requires continuing support, he or she should be assisted as a Child In Need. Where the young person moves to independent living, support can be provided to them up as he or she will fall within the definition of qualifying young people. Support may include advice, befriending and discretionary financial assistance. It will be provided at the request of the young person on the basis of assessment of need and can continue up to the age of 21 or beyond if the young person is in higher education, up to the end of the course.
Only valid for 48hrs