Private fostering is when a child under the age of 16 (or 18 if disabled) is looked after for 28 days or more by someone who is not their parent or a relative, and the arrangement was made privately.

A relative in this context is defined as a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership) or step-parent.

Private foster carers will usually be more distant relatives or family friends but can include the unmarried former partner of a parent.

How are private fostering arrangements made?

Private fostering arrangements are made directly between the parent and the private foster carer rather than by the local authority. If a social worker was involved in making the arrangement then legally this may in fact be a placement of a ‘looked after child’, in which case you will need to be assessed, paid and supported as a local authority foster carer.  This is a complicated area of law so if you are in any doubt as to whether or not it is a private arrangement you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.

When a child is privately fostered, the parents and the private foster carer must tell Children’s Services about the arrangement as soon as possible. A social worker will visit both the foster carer and the parents to check whether the arrangements appear satisfactory, and will continue to visit the child at regular intervals for as long as the arrangement continues.

Do private foster carers have parental responsibility?

Private foster carers do not have parental responsibility for a child. Parents can delegate day-to-day decision making to the private foster carer but will have to consent to major decisions such as (non-emergency) medical treatment, schooling and travel abroad.

A parent can end a private fostering arrangement at any time and without notice. If you are a private foster carer who thinks there are strong reasons why a child should remain in your care, you may wish to consider applying for a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order which would give you parental responsibility and confirm that the child should live with you.  If you’re not sure what’s the best option for you and the child you’re caring for, you should get some legal advice.

Can private foster carers get any support?

There is no support specifically available for private foster carers.  However, local authorities do have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area who are ‘in need’ by providing a range of family support services under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This can include financial support, although it’s likely to be restricted to those in particularly difficult circumstances.

Private foster carers can generally claim the same benefits and financial help as parents including Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit.  In many cases, parents are no longer entitled to claim these benefits if their children are no longer living with them.

For advice and information on becoming a kinship carer and the different options that you may have, contact our advice service on 0300 123 7015.