This page explains the law relating to the situation whereby a child goes to live with a person who is not their parent or a ‘connected person’. It explains the duties of the local authority to assess the suitability of the prospective private foster carer and provide support where necessary.
The law regarding private fostering changed greatly following the death of Victoria Climbie in 2000 who was privately fostered by her Great Aunt. Legislation introduced after Victoria’s death requires local authorities to be proactive in investigating potential private fostering arrangements.
What is private fostering?
Private fostering is an arrangement whereby a child under the age of 16 (or 18 if the child has a disability) is placed for 28 days or more in the care of someone who is not the child’s parent(s) or a ‘connected person’.
A connected person is defined as a 'relative, friend or other person connected with a child'. The latter is likely to include person(s) who have a pre-existing relationship with the child, for example, a teacher who knows the child in a professional capacity.
Private foster carers can be from the extended family, e.g. a cousin or a great aunt, but cannot be a relative as defined under the Children Act 1989, section 105:
‘A relative under the Children Act 1989 is defined as a ‘grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership) or step-parent’.
If you meet the definition of a ‘connected person’, please see our page on Family and Friends Care.
It is imperative that the local authority are notified if a child is living with someone who is not their parent or a ‘connected person’ for longer than 28 days. The local authority need to be satisfied that the placement is suitable and the child is safe. To be defined as ‘private fostering’, the child must be living with that person for longer than 28 days and this should be continuous but can include occasional short breaks.
What is the relevant legislation for private fostering?
The Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005 replaced the Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 1991 and the National Minimum Standards for Private Fostering (NMS) issued under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 are key pieces of legislation governing the area of private fostering. The NMS is general guidance and does not have the full force of statute, but should be followed unless there are exceptional local circumstances to justify a variation.
What are the obligations of a private foster carer to notify the Local Authority of the arrangement?
A person who proposes to foster a child must notify the appropriate Local Authority at least six weeks before the arrangement is to begin. The Local Authority must be notified immediately if the arrangement is to begin within six weeks. If the parent or other person with Parental Responsibility is arranging for the child to be privately fostered, or is aware of the situation, they are under an obligation to notify the Local Authority as soon as possible.
If a private carer was not aware of the need to inform the Local Authority they should do so as soon as they become aware of the situation. In order to understand the child and to care for him or her it is advisable for the foster carer to be given as much information as possible about the child and this information should be passed on to the Local Authority when giving notification. This information should include:
- The child’s history which can include the child’s name, sex, date and place of birth
- Information regarding the child’s health
- Eating preferences
- Religious, cultural or ethnic background
The person notifying the Local Authority should give them as much information as possible. This information including what has been outlined above should also include:
- The name and current address of the person giving notice, the parent or anyone else with and that of the proposed or current private carer and his/her addresses within the previous five years
- The date on which the intended private fostering arrangement will start or when it started
- Any conviction, disqualification or prohibition imposed on the private foster carer or any other person living or employed at his/her household
- Any court orders relating to the child.
The private foster must also notify the appropriate Local Authority of any change of their circumstances regarding the above. The Local Authority should also be notified if the child has a new private foster carer.
What are the duties of the Local Authority once notified of a private fostering arrangement?
Once the Local Authority receives notification of a prospective private fostering arrangement they must arrange for a social worker to carry out the following checks within seven days to establish whether the arrangement is suitable:
- visit the premises where it is proposed that the child will be cared for and accommodated
- visit and speak to the proposed private foster carer and people living with the foster carer
- visit and speak to the child alone to ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings unless the officer considers it inappropriate
- speak to and, if it is practicable to do so, visit the parent or person with parental responsibility for the child
- investigate any other matters the social worker believes to be relevant such as whether an agreement for financial arrangements and for the care and maintenance of the child have been reached, arrangements for the child’s education etc.
The social worker must ensure that the intended duration of the fostering arrangement is understood and agreed by both the parents of the child and the proposed private foster carer.
Will I get Parental Responsibility as a private foster carer?
The foster carer becomes the main carer of the child and can make day to day decisions, however they will not get Parental Responsibility. Those with Parental Responsibility, such as the parent, retain their Parental Responsibility and would continue to exercise it. Those with Parental Responsibility can delegate certain responsibilities but the overarching responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child remains with the parent or any other person with Parental Responsibility. (See our information page on Parental Responsibility for more information on who has Parental Responsibility).
What role will the Local Authority have during a private fostering arrangement?
Once the Social Worker has undertaken enquiries they must prepare a written report to the Local Authority detailing their recommendations. If the Local Authority determines that an arrangement is unsuitable but the child cannot be returned to his or her parents, the Authority must decide what action to take in order to safeguard the child’s welfare. This may mean providing support to the carer or, in some circumstances, finding alternative Local Authority accommodation.
The Social Worker will offer advice on how to claim benefits, as well as parenting support and assistance in bringing families closer together. If the arrangement is ongoing, the Local Authority must arrange to visit the child at least every 6 weeks during the first year and at least every 12 weeks after the first year. The social worker must complete a report after every visit and can also visit the child if the child requests this, or if the parents request a visit.
The foster carer will have to make the Local Authority aware of certain changes in circumstances, such as change of address, any criminal convictions they acquire or anyone living at the address acquires, loss of employment etc.
What support is available to a private foster carer?
The parent or person with Parental Responsibility will remain financially responsible for the child. The private foster carer should be able to claim benefits such as Child Tax Credit and Housing benefit for the period the child lives with them.
It is key to distinguish a private fostering arrangement from accommodating a child under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. A section 20 agreement is an agreement between the Local Authority and the parent for the Local Authority to accommodate the child. The Local Authority may then decide to place the child with a third party. In such circumstances the Local Authority are responsible for providing the necessary support to the person caring for the child and this does include financial support.
Where the Local Authority consider the child to be a ‘child in need’ as specified under section 17(1) of the Children’s Act 1989, then the Local Authority must provide services and support to increase the capacity of the private foster carer to care for the child.
The Local Authority also have a legal duty to open and maintain a register of disabled children in their area, this register and services should identify, diagnose, assess and treat privately fostered children who are disabled. This can include the provision of equipment such as communication aids and interpreters.
What should I do if a private fostering arrangement comes to an end?
The foster carer should advise the Local Authority in writing within 48 hours if the arrangement comes to an end. They should also notify the Local Authority of the name and address of the person who will be taking on care of the child. It will not be necessary to notify the Local Authority if the private foster carer intends to resume the arrangement after an interval or not more than 27 days. However, if during the interval the foster carer decides not to resume the arrangement then the Local Authority should be notified within 48 hours of abandoning this intention.