Private fostering is when a parent arranges for their child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled), to live with and be cared for by someone who is not:

  • A parent
  • A close relative
  • Someone who has parental responsibility.

Under these arrangements, the law defines a close relative as a child’s brother or sister, grandparent, step-parent, aunt and uncle. An aunt or uncle must be the sister or brother of one of the child’s parents.

These arrangements have to last for a total of 28 days or more. It does not matter if the carer is paid or provides care for free – it is still regarded as private fostering. Private fostering is different from public fostering, which is arranged and paid for by the Council. It is a private arrangement made between a parent and a carer; the parent still holds parental responsibility and agrees the arrangement with the private foster carer.

Parents and private foster carers are legally required to notify the local authority before a private fostering arrangement begins. The local authority has a duty to assess a proposed or existing arrangement to ensure the situation is satisfactory and that it is in the best interests of the child. If, following the assessment, it is decided that the arrangement can continue, a social worker will visit the child and family on a regular basis (minimum 6 weekly in first year, then 12 weekly) to safeguard the welfare of the child and ensure the arrangements remain satisfactory.

If the local authority thinks that an arrangement is unsuitable and the child cannot be returned to his or her parents, the authority must decide what action to take to safeguard the child’s welfare. This may mean providing support to the carer or, in some circumstances, finding alternative local authority accommodation.

Professionals in the education, health and social care fields need to help by ensuring they are proactive in identifying and notifying the Local Authority of private fostering arrangements that they may become aware of.

The reasons why a child may be looked after through a private fostering arrangement may include:

  • A child being sent to this country for education or health care by their birth parents from overseas.
  • A child living with a friend's family as a result of parental separation, divorce or arguments at home.
  • A teenager living with the family of a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • A parent’s hours of work or study making it difficult for them to use ordinary care to look after their child.

For more information on private fostering visit the Bath & North East Somerset Council fostering website.

The Senior in Care Council and Off The Record have made a short film about what it is like to be in foster care.

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