Councils set to police private fostering

The government plans to give new duties to local authorities to
monitor and police private fostering as part of next month’s
Children’s Bill, Community Care has learned,
writes Derren Hayes.

Children’s minister Margaret Hodge confirmed in a letter
to children’s organisations last week that the government hopes to
issue beefed-up regulations and guidance to councils on private
fostering after the bill is enacted.

Under the proposed duties:

– local authorities would be required to check a private
fostering arrangement before a child is placed in it, where advance
notice is given;

– to closely monitor the operation of the private fostering
notification scheme locally;

– to “make all reasonable efforts” to raise
awareness of the need to notify councils of private fostering

Regulations will require councils to appoint an individual
officer to monitor the effectiveness of the local authority’s
notification system, to ensure that inter-agency co-operation and
discharge of the new duties on private fostering become a specific
function of the new Local Safeguarding Children Board, and to
monitor it with inspection.

The measures will be funded through the £90 million
ring-fenced grant allocated for councils in 2004/05 for improving
services to safeguard children.

The measures fall short of campaigners’ calls for a new
register of private foster children and carers to be set up, but
Baaf Adoption and Fostering chief executive Felicity Collier said
they would at least place private fostering higher up the local
authority agenda.

The government will insert a “Sunset clause” into
the bill which would allow it to establish a register without the
need for new legislation if the reforms “do not work as well
in practice as we think they will”.

However, Sir William Utting, who in 1996 carried out a review of
private fostering, said there was still a need for private
fostering to be regulated in the same way as local authority

“It is completely unacceptable to have a regulated system
for day care, but partly regulated for children living with
strangers,” he added.

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