Charities have expressed concern that 10,000 children could be at risk as a result of unregistered private fostering.
When a child is looked after by someone who is not a close relative for more than 28 days, the arrangement is known as private fostering. By law, the local authority should be notified of such arrangements.
The government estimates that around 10,000 children are in private foster care, although last year, local authorities in England were informed of only 1,560 such arrangements.
Such a large discrepancy could be explained by the fact that a lot of people do not know what constitutes private fostering. In a survey of 3,142 adults by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), a staggering 91 per cent of respondents did not know what such arrangements were.
Awareness of private fostering was higher among older respondents, the survey found. Only eight per cent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 years old correctly identified the term. This number increased to 11 per cent of those over 55.
Additionally, women were more likely to know what private fostering was than men. The poll found that 11.4 per cent of female respondents could identify such arrangements as opposed to only 7.5 per cent of men.
Caroline Selkirk is the chief executive of BAAF. She said that the thousands of children who could be in private fostering arrangements were essentially “invisible”. It is important that local authorities are informed of such children “so that they can protect them and provide appropriate support”, she added.
BAAF’s concerns were shared by children’s charity ECPAT UK (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes). Chloe Setter, the charity’s head of advocacy, policy and campaigns, said that children who were privately fostered without the knowledge of the authorities were “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.”
Ms Setter called for more attention to be drawn to this issue and said that action should be taken to “ensure all private fostering arrangements are registered in order to protect children from abuse”.