The public’s lack of awareness about private fostering could be leaving children at risk, the British Association for Adoption and Fostering said today as it launched a campaign on the issue.
A survey for the charity found that 22% of people would do nothing if an unrelated child suddenly appeared living next door, and 7% would fail to act if such a child disappeared. Just a quarter knew what private fostering was and Baaf chief executive David Holmes said he suspected even fewer knew that families had a duty to inform councils about private fostering arrangements.
Holmes said: “We need people to understand what private fostering actually is. If people don’t realise that it’s illegal for a child to live with someone else for more than 28 days without the council’s knowledge, then that child risks becoming invisible.”
Councils must be notified when a child is placed in the care of someone who is not a close relative.
The survey follows a Baaf poll of more than 200 professionals working with children, published last year, which found just 18% could define private fostering correctly.
The Somebody else’s child campaign, which runs until this Sunday (25 January), will urge people to look for signs of private fostering in their community. It aims to eliminate the risk of child abuse going undetected by encouraging people to notify councils of private fostering arrangements.
“It’s part of our responsibility as a community to notice children in society,” said Holmes. “If a teacher or a doctor notices a new child, they should remember to find out who the child is living with. We’re all part of the solution here.”
In 2004, the Department of Health estimated there were around 10,000 children being privately fostered in England and Wales, but Baaf’s research indicates the figure could be significantly higher.
Since 2005, councils have been under a duty to promote and encourage notification of private fostering arrangements, but as of March last year, just 1,330 children were recorded as being privately fostered in England, up from 1,250 in 2007.
Calls for registration
Concerns about the low level of notifications have led campaigners to call for the introduction of a registration system for private fostering. The Children Act 2004 allowed the government to introduce registration by 2008 if notifications failed to increase, but this was extended to 2011 in the Children and Young Persons Act 2008.
Holmes agreed that more time should be allowed to see if the current system can work. “Whatever the system is, it’s not going to work if people don’t know about private fostering. That’s why awareness-raising is the most important factor for us,” he said.
Expert guide to child protection