Private fostering

Private foster carers are people who are not a close relative to a child but plan to look after them for 28 days or more. The local authority must be notified so they can assess and support them to ensure it is a safe place for the child.

Private fostering is when a child or young person under 16 years old (or 18 if they have a disability) is looked after for a period of 28 days or more by someone who is not a parent, close relative, legal guardian or person with parental responsibility. Close relatives are step-parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and grandparents. Other people, such as neighbours, friends or more distant relatives need to have an assessment. Following a successful assessment, the local authority must visit the child regularly to ensure they are and remain safe.

By law, the local authority where the private foster carer lives must be told about all private fostering situations. The child’s parents, private foster carer and anyone else involved in the arrangement are legally required to inform the local authority. Schools should be clear who has parental responsibility for children on their roll, and where they identify a private fostering arrangement they must report this to the relevant local authority.

You can use this postcode checker to find out who the relevant local authority would be.

Why might a child be privately fostered?

Unfortunately, when we think of private fostering we often think of Victoria Climbié.  However, a private fostering arrangement can be a positive response from friends and the local community to a family in need of support.

There are many reasons why a parent may be unable to care for their own child on a short or long-term basis. Regardless of the reason, any child separated from their parents is potentially vulnerable. We all therefore have responsibilities to ensure the alternative care any privately fostered child receives meets their welfare and safety needs.

Examples when a child might be or become privately fostered include:

  • if the parent has chronic ill health, is in hospital or in prison;
  • when parents who live overseas send their children to this country for education;
  • when parent and child don’t get on, so child is living with a friend’s family;
  • when parents’ study or work hours/commute etc prevents them looking after the child themselves;
  • where parents have separated or divorced, and may have no stable home;
  • when young people want to live with the family of a boyfriend or girlfriend;
  • when children/young people in boarding schools cannot return to their parents in the holidays, e.g. a parent in the Armed Services may have been deployed overseas;
  • unaccompanied asylum-seeking children/young people who are living with friends, distant relatives or strangers.

Whilst most private fostering cases are established for good reasons, we must also be open to the possibility that the child may have been a victim of trafficking.

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Signs a child may be privately fostered

Although not an exhaustive list, the questions below may help to identify a privately fostered child:

  • Has the child said that they are no longer living with their parents e.g. are staying with friends/cousins/ family you were hitherto unaware of?
  • Is the child vague about who is looking after them and what their relationship to them is?
  • Is their carer vague about routines, needs and the child’s education?
  • Who accompanies the child to school – is it someone different to their known carer?
  • Are you unsure who is looking after the child and what their relationship to the child is?  Have you checked that those called e.g. ‘Auntie’, ‘Uncle’ etc. are relatives rather than the term being used as a form of respect?
  • Are you unsure if the carer has parental responsibility for the child?
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The role of the local authority

It is the local authority’s legal duty to make sure all private fostering arrangements are safe for the child or young person. Once informed of the arrangement, the local authority will check the suitability of private foster carers, make regular visits to the child or young person and ensure advice, help and support is available when needed.

What to do

  • Know the law on parental responsibility.
  • Ensure you know who is caring for a child and ensure they have parental responsibility.
  • Where they do not, be clear about the arrangements by which they are caring for a child.
  • Know the law on private fostering.
  • If someone plans to look after a child for 28 days or more, this could be private fostering.
  • Talk to them about their plans, if it is private fostering ensure they have contacted children’s services.
  • If they have not contacted the local authority then seek their consent to do so, however if they do not consent you still have a duty to notify the local authority.
  • Support the assessment and consider with the social worker, parents and carers what additional support might be put in place.



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Join safeguarding network for more information on how to identify private fostering arrangements and support privately fostered children in schools.

  • Training resources for Safeguarding Leads to use in team meetings;
  • Reference documents for additional information;
  • Handouts for staff summarising each topic;
  • Quizzes to test staff understanding.
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