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Private Fostering in Scotland - Practice Guidance for Local Authority Children's Services

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5. Who may be privately fostered?

Parents will have legitimate reasons for involving someone else in caring for their child over an extended period of time. Here are some examples of circumstances where children may be in private foster care arrangements.

  • children from overseas where parents are/are not resident in this country
  • children from abroad who attend language schools or mainstream school in this country and are staying with host families
  • adolescents estranged from their parents
  • children at boarding schools who do not return to their parents in the holidays but stay with education guardians.
  • children on holiday exchanges
  • children (sometimes very young) where a parent is in prison or where a parent is unable to care for them because of chronic ill health or where there are alcohol or drug issues
  • children whose parents are undertaking a course of study and are unable to care for the child while they progress their course
  • children in services families where parents are posted overseas The Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen Families Association (SSAFA) is well aware of this situation and acknowledges that there are many more situations than it will formally be aware of)
  • Children who are left residing with partners of their birth parents following a death or separation (individual circumstances would need to be taken into consideration and proportionate responses considered)

This list is by no means exhaustive, and while many of these arrangements will be positive for children, it gives an indication of the scale and variety of agencies who will be involved with children. These agencies need to be aware that private fostering arrangements can be detrimental to a child's welfare and they need to be reported.

The wide range of situations which constitute private fostering means that local authority children's services need to regularly raise awareness with a wide range of organisations and professionals in their local areas about private fostering and to work effectively with those agencies so that private fostering arrangements which have not yet been brought to the attention of local authorities can be identified. These should include education, health, housing, childcare, social care, and immigration services and there will be other local community and third sector family support services which will need to be kept well informed.

Some children could effectively have no one concerned for their safety or welfare. Below are some risk factors which may indicate that a child is left vulnerable with no oversight from local authorities.

Risk Indicators

  • Children not registered with a school or not attending school
  • Children not registered with a general practitioner or dentist
  • An adult turns up with a child who is now staying with them
  • A child mentions that they are staying with someone who is not their parent
  • A patient attends a GP Practice or clinic with a child you haven't seen before
  • A patient attends with a different child(ren) from prior visits
  • A child may mention that the person they are accompanying is not their parent
  • A child comes from overseas for the purpose of education without a parent coming with them
  • A home you visit includes children who you have not previously been aware of
  • A carer is vague about a child's routines or needs

Note: It is important not to regard all arrangements as suspicious but to have an awareness of areas where children could be at risk and keep alert to child trafficking risk indicators while establishing whether any living arrangements should be treated as private fostering. Children trafficked into the UK are especially vulnerable and may not come to light until health or welfare concerns are raised.

Child trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring and/or receipt of children for exploitation, including domestic servitude, commercial sexual exploitation and to support benefit claims (see www.ecpat.org.uk for further information)