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Private fostering

Private fostering is the term used to describe an arrangement made privately (that is without the involvement of a local authority) between a child's parents and a carer of their choice.

If a child aged under 16 years (or under 18 years if they are disabled) stays with people who are not related to them for 28 days or more, this is known as a private fostering arrangement and special rules apply.

A child is considered to be in private foster care if they are in the full-time care of someone who is not directly related, nor is a legal guardian, for a total of 28 days or longer.

The period of 28 days does not have to be continuous. If, for example, a child regularly stays with a school friend's family and this arrangement adds up to 28 days or longer, after which he or she returns home to the full-time care of their parents, then this would not be a private fostering arrangement. However, if a child is cared for by a non-relative or legal guardian but returns to the parent at weekends, then this is a private fostering arrangement.

Privately fostered children and young people may:

  • have parents living or working abroad
  • be sent to the UK to study at state or language schools
  • live with another family because they have problems at home
  • be estranged from their own family
  • be at independent schools and not returning home during school holidays

Children who are on weekend or holiday visits do not count as being privately fostered.

If you are unsure if your situation is private fostering tel: 0800 083 77 44 or email to discuss it.

Private fostering and childminding

Private fostering is different from child minding in that the child in foster care lives with the carer. Childminders can only offer daily care and occasional overnight stays.

Private fostering arrangements are used by some parents to meet the needs of their children. Such agreements are acceptable providing specific guidelines are followed for the protection of the child, the parents and the carers.

Some teenagers may choose to live with another family who agrees to care for them. The same rules apply.

Notifying the local authority

There are a variety of reasons why a parent may be unable to care for their own child on a short or long-term basis and a private fostering arrangement can be a positive response from friends and the local community to a family in need of support.

However, any child separated from their parents is potentially vulnerable and the local authority has a responsibility to make sure the alternative care they receive is suitable.

By law, the local authority must be told about all private fostering situations. The child's parents, private foster carers and anyone else involved in the arrangement are legally required to inform the council immediately. Professionals, such as teachers, doctors or religious leaders, who are made aware of a privately fostered child, should also inform the council immediately. Many people don't know that they must do this, which means the necessary arrangements to ensure the child or young person is safe are not being made.

People involved in private fostering must contact the local authority in the following timescales:

  • if the child is not yet living with private foster carers – 6 weeks beforehand
  • if the child moves in with private foster carers in less than 6 weeks – immediately
  • if the child is already living with private foster carers – immediately

Once informed, we will work in partnership with the child, parents and private foster carer to make sure that the best possible arrangements are in place for the child. This includes:

  • visiting the child and private foster carer
  • helping to make sure that the child's racial, cultural, linguistic and religious needs are met
  • offering advice and support to the child, their parents and private foster carer