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Council puts spotlight on Private Fostering during Private Fostering Week

30 June 2017

Monday marks the start of Private Fostering Week, and in common with other Councils, Swindon Borough Council is keen to make best use of the week to promote awareness of the regulations covering Private Fostering while a national spotlight is being focused on the subject.

Private fostering is an arrangement  between a parent and carer for someone other than a parent or close relative to provide care and accommodation for a child under the age of 16, or under 18 if disabled, for 28 days or more, without the local authority’s involvement.

A ‘close relative’, to whom private fostering does not apply, is defined as a step-parent, grandparent, brother or sister, and uncle or aunt.

The arrangement can provide huge benefits in the right circumstances, allowing children who would otherwise be in public care to experience a form of family life through private fostering arrangements.

However to keep children and young people safe, the Government has made it the law for anyone whose child is being looked after by someone else to tell their local children’s services.

Not everyone is aware that under the Children Act 1989, private foster carers and those with parental responsibility have to notify the local authority of their plans to privately foster someone, or have a child privately fostered.

Meanwhile for their part, the local authority has a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of privately fostered children, and ensure that the relevant advice is given.

Private Fostering Week, therefore, is an ideal opportunity for local councils to highlight the vulnerability of children in private fostering arrangements who remain off the local authorities’ radar.

In keeping with the Government’s focus on safeguarding children at risk, the week’s key objective  is to push up the  notification levels of children in private fostering arrangements by encouraging people, whether professionals or private individuals, to contact the local authority, especially if they suspect a child is being trafficked, has experienced FGM and sexual exploitation.

The reasons for children becoming privately fostered are many and varied, i.e. family illness, attending school away from the home area, parents living overseas, young people who stay with friends’ families because of family tensions, children staying with host families whilst they have medical treatment in this country, or attend boarding or language school, to name just a few. Children privately fostered can hail from all over the world.

Swindon currently has some 11 Private Fostering arrangements, although the number changes through the year since young people stop being subject to the arrangement once they turn 16. Many of these are young people from elsewhere in England or abroad who are playing sports in Swindon - during the academic year they live under Private Fostering arrangements and attend local schools.

In Swindon – as elsewhere - it’s an obligation for a child’s parents or carers to advise the Council’s Family Contact Point of the private fostering agreement at least six weeks before the child moves to the carers. But in an emergency, the Authority needs to be told within 48 hours.

Since some people planning to privately foster are not always fully aware of such requirements, the Council is seizing the opportunity presented by the week to spread awareness across the Borough by contacting schools, GP surgeries, Early Help services, Youth Offending Teams, and youth clubs among others, to remind them of their responsibilities and the support they can offer, and sending out information packs, posters and leaflets to schools across the borough.

Cheryl Keller, the Council’s Consultant Social Worker for Fostering, said:

“Private Fostering Week provides us a great opportunity to make relevant people more aware of their responsibilities in this area. To give privately fostered children the best possible support, it’s vital for the child’s carers and the Local Authority to work together to ensure everything is in place for safe and successful fostering.

“That means knowing how the child has been brought up by their parents, the child’s health, favourite foods, how they are getting on at school, their hobbies and what social groups they attend outside school.

“Parents also need to know they aren’t giving up their rights and responsibilities towards their children, should continue to be involved in all decisions concerning their child’s upbringing and stay in close touch with them.

“For our part, the Council’s fostering social workers must visit privately fostered children at regular intervals and children should be given the contact details of the social worker who will be visiting them while they are being privately fostered. 

“The Council has produced a wealth of guidance on Private Fostering aimed at professionals, parents and young people so no one should be in the dark about the requirements, These are available at Private Fostering Guide for Parents Private Fostering Guide for Young People and Private Fostering Guide for Professsionals so I would encourage anyone considering a private fostering arrangement to find out what the requirements are.

“We would also be delighted to send out an information pack. Contact us at the Council’s Family Contact Point”

 Cllr Fionuala Foley, Cabinet Member for Schools and Education, added: “Private Fostering is a wonderful initiative which can provide the best possible solutions to sometimes difficult family circumstances, but it is vital that all such arrangements are properly regulated in the best interests of the child, meeting all required legislation. I am pleased that Private Fostering Weeks is providing us with an opportunity to make relevant people more aware of the requirements.”

Anyone wanting to know more can contact the Family Contact Point, Swindon Borough Council, Civic Offices, Euclid Street, Swindon, Wiltshire SN1 2JH, tel 01793 466903, or go to the Council’s website at www.swindon.gov.uk/ private+fostering

There is also information available from British Association for Adoption and Fostering at Somebody Else's Child