Awareness of private fostering is “patchy” among children’s social workers according to government-commissioned research.
A survey of 352 children’s social workers found less than half (47%) felt they were well informed about private fostering, with a further 47% reporting they knew a little but were unclear about details. Workers in other areas such as health and education knew even less, with only 13% of education workers regarding themselves as well-informed on the topic.
“Those involved in social care are the best informed; however the research revealed examples of social workers failing to recognise private fostering arrangements, and even providing misinformation to enquiriers,” the report stated
Private fostering covers a wide-range of situations including unaccompanied immigrant children, children attending language schools or sent to the UK for educational purposes, trafficked children as well as children on the edge of care and adolescents “sofa-surfing” because of difficulties with parents.
The research, carried out by the National Children’s Bureau also found that despite councils trying to raise public awareness about the duty to notify councils of private fostering arrangements, there had been very little impact on the number of notifications received. As a result many felt the current system of notifications was “unrealistic”.
Uncertainty over what constituted private fostering contributed to practitioner uncertainty over regulations, the report found, and also meant the boundaries between private foster care and other forms of state care appeared blurred. Social workers also reported that forms on the integrated childrens system (ICS) were “unhelpful”.
The findings come as a couple were found guilty last week of killing a three-year-old boy they were looking after in a private fostering arrangement. Reports of the court case claim that weeks before the death of Ryan Lovell-Hancox in 2008, his mother, Amy Hancox, 21, from Bilston, West Midlands, left her son with Christopher Taylor, 25, and his girlfriend, Kayley Boleyn, 19, who is her cousin.
Hancox said she had paid the couple £40 a week to look after Ryan because she wasn’t coping and wanted to decorate her home in time for Christmas. The toddler was found with more than 70 injuries.
Wolverhampton Council will publish a serious case review in due course.