Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

Unlike mainstream foster care, private foster
care arrangements are made out of the public eye and are immune
from external scrutiny. In the words of Sir William Utting, in his
1997 report People Like Us, private fostering is “a honey
pot for abusers”. There are thought to be some 10,000 children,
mainly black children of west African origin, privately fostered in
this country. The carers are supposed to register, but only half of
them bother to do so and even those who do are unregulated. They
are often white families found by word of mouth or through informal
networks. In a new report, A Very Private Practice, British
Agencies for Adoption and Fostering calls for legislation requiring
local authorities to maintain a register of “approved” foster
carers in their area and making it an offence to use an
unregistered carer. BAAF also envisages a role for the National
Care Standards Commission and says that councils should ensure that
private fostering is based on Children Act 1989 principles.
Victoria Climbie, privately fostered by her great aunt, is a tragic
and fortunately unusual example of what can happen when the
arrangement goes wrong.

Bill Badham, programme manager,
Children’s Society
“Children in private fostering have a right to safeguards
as rigorous as those in public care. Regulations should ensure all
fostering takes account of the child’s wishes and best interests.
But the system failing black children like Victoria Climbie is
bigger than this and suffers from institutional racism. There was
also fraud and abuse, which was never fully investigated by any of
the authorities involved. The reasons for this need digging out and

Julia Ross, social services director
and primary care trust chief executive, London Borough of Barking
and Dagenham
“It’s often hard to know how far the arm of the state
should reach and where to draw the line. Private fostering is one
of those situations. In theory, I think British Agencies for
Adoption and Fostering are right but I do worry about what is
realistic and feasible. I wish instead that we could reinforce
parental responsibilities through education and without feeling
that the statutory sector should always have the right or need to
intervene. Certainly, if problems arise, then the state should be
ready to step in but all too often that doesn’t happen when it
should – for a whole range of reasons.”

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow,
Nuffield Institute for Health, University of Leeds
“Safeguards do exist, but they place the onus on private
foster carers themselves, or natural parents, to notify social
services about the arrangements. This is patently not working, and
social services perhaps understandably concentrate their resources
on measures upon which they are judged. Reform along the lines
proposed by BAAF is needed, but if inspection and monitoring become
too burdensome, this will not ease the chronic shortage of foster

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel
and Care for the Elderly
“Private unregulated fostering is open to huge abuse and
needs to be regulated immediately. In recent years we have seen
several tragic cases of death and abuse that have taken place
despite the child protection system and the dangers for children in
unregulated situations are even greater, particularly as many of
those children may be from especially isolated and vulnerable
groups such as refugees. The government should act immediately to
close this dangerous gap in the system.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive,
British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering
The BAAF report makes it abundantly clear that these
children are at risk of emotional, if not physical, abuse and
neglect. There is much greater protection for children with child
minders, who see their parent every day, unlike privately fostered
children for whom contact can be very spasmodic. We have worked
hard to develop our recommendations with African groups who also
want change.

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