Well-intentioned families who take long-term charge of children to help friends in times of need may unwittingly be breaking the law if they don’t tell the authorities.
They may also be placing vulnerable youngsters at risk as well as passing up the chance of valuable support from experts in the fostering service.
These are the messages from Buckinghamshire County Council during Private Fostering Week which runs from July 6 to 10.
There are currently only 14 children in Buckinghamshire registered in private foster care, but the council believes ‘this is probably the tip of the iceberg’.
It is stressing that people involved in private arrangements who haven’t previously declared should come forward now in the interests of the child.
Council social worker Beth Smith said: “This is not about catching people out; we simply have a duty to ensure that children are being looked after safely and that anyone looking after a child who is not related to them, for 28 days or more, is given as much support and information as possible.
“We realise that a lot of people look after somebody else’s child with the very best intentions, and often they do an excellent job. However, the safety of every child is paramount here and we need to be informed so we can confirm that the arrangements are suitable and safe.”
Private fostering is defined as being when a child under 16, or under 18 if they are disabled, lives with an adult who is not a close relative for 28 days or more. Close relatives include grandparents, siblings, uncles and aunts.
Under the law, the arrangement must have the consent of the parents. Unlike foster carers provided by the Council, private carers will receive no expenses or benefits for their work.
Lin Hazell, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We appreciate there are many reasons why a child doesn’t live at home and why their parents have arranged for somebody else to care for them. But the Council does need to be notified and has to endorse the arrangement, so we can ensure the child is being well looked-after and can give appropriate advice to the carer.”
She added: “I understand that some people may not like us getting involved and may even see it as an invasion of privacy, but the needs of the child have to be safeguarded to avoid the very real risk of, one day, a private fostering arrangement ending in tragedy.
“There have been cases in the past when the private foster carers have been totally inappropriate and we have removed the children, but for the most part, the process will be a formality if the carers are suitable and have the best interests of the child at heart.”
The law says that the council needs to be told at least six weeks before the arrangement begins or, in an emergency, within 48 hours. However, anyone who hasn’t complied with this is still urged to come forward now.
To register as a private foster carer, to or to inform the council that you are aware of such a family arrangement, or to find out more, contact the First Step Team on 0800 160 1900 or visit www.buckscc.gov.uk/privatefostering