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Monday, 06 July 2015

Children at risk over lack of public knowledge of private fostering

Written by The Editorial Team

A Survation poll commissioned by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) reveals that 91% of the UK adult population don’t know what private fostering is.

BAAF and ECPAT UK, an anti-child trafficking charity, are concerned that more than 10,000 children may be at risk because carers and members of the public don’t know they need to notify their local authority about private fostering arrangements.

Private fostering describes an arrangement that lasts for 28 days or more, where a child is cared for by someone who isn’t a close relative. This means someone who isn’t a grandparent, uncle, aunt, step parent or older brother or sister. By law, parents and carers must notify their local authority of any private fostering arrangement.

Privately fostered children include trafficked children, unaccompanied asylum seekers, runaways and teenagers estranged from their parents who are sleeping on someone else’s sofa.

Government estimates put the number of privately fostered children at above 10,000 in the UK. However last year local authorities were only notified of 1,560 new private fostering arrangements in England.

BAAF believes the shortfall in reporting is due to lack of awareness amongst the public and carers. This latest private fostering research was conducted by Survation and commissioned by BAAF as part of the Private Fostering Week (6th-10th June 2015) awareness-raising campaign. The survey found that only 9% of the UK adult population could correctly identify the definition of private fostering. A further 56% of people claimed they had never heard of private fostering.

Other key findings include:

  • Awareness of private fostering was highest in older people. 11% of over 55s correctly identified the term, compared with 8% 18-34 year olds.
  • Awareness of private fostering was higher among women than among men.
  • Awareness of private fostering was highest in the North East and London.
  • Awareness of private fostering was lowest in Scotland. In Scotland, only 5% of respondents were able to correctly recognise the term, and a further 65% of respondents who said they had never heard of private fostering.
  • A minority of respondents believed private fostering referred to time spent at a boarding school.

To ensure that private foster carers and children receive the support they need, BAAF and ECPAT UK are asking private foster carers to notify their local authority of their situation. BAAF and ECPAT UK are also calling for professionals who may come into contact with privately fostered children, in health, education, childcare, police, immigration and housing, to alert their local authority if they suspect a child is privately fostered.

Chief Executive of BAAF, Caroline Selkirk, comments: “There could be thousands of children in private fostering arrangements that the authorities are totally unaware of. It is important that local authorities know where these children are so that they can protect them and provide appropriate support. Please help us make sure these children don’t remain invisible.

If you are privately fostering a child, all you need to do is notify your local authority and this means you will be able to access appropriate support. If you suspect a child is being privately fostered, then I would urge you to inform your local authority so they can investigate further.”

Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns ECPAT UK, Chloe Setter, comments: "Unregistered private fostering arrangements put children in an extremely vulnerable position. Many children in such placements are trafficked or at risk of trafficking and exploitation but these children are often invisible to protection services. The lack of review and oversight of the placement makes identifying these children very difficult and little is known by the public about the obligations and risks. There is also a deficit of knowledge about child trafficking among some frontline practitioners, which means sometimes trafficking is not identified.

More must be done to shine a light on this situation and ensure all private fostering arrangements are registered in order to protect children from abuse. It is not acceptable to have children hidden in our communities living away from their parents and guardians in situations that might put them at risk."