Hidden fostering

extent of private foster care is unknown. What is known, however, is that
unless social services gain more knowledge of such arrangements, many
children’s lives could be at risk, writes Bob Holman.

fostering is a changing and growing issue that concerns around 10,000
vulnerable children. Having conducted the first major study of private
fostering in the 1960s,1 I have carried out further research
recently that shows that the nature of private fostering has changed.

African parents who place children often work long hours, live in poor
accommodation and are sometimes studying part-time. For them private fostering
seems to be the only option. Some parents resident in West Africa also send
their children to foster carers in Britain to escape the civil unrest and lack
of opportunities in their home countries.

of these black children are placed with white carers, many of whom do not deal
well with matters of race and culture. Risks to the children are intensified if
the natural parents do not visit regularly. Indeed, a lack of contact can mean
that the private foster carers eventually refuse to hand back the children, so
leading to struggles in the courts over residence and adoption orders.

are also now more children placed with private foster carers by refugees and
asylum seekers. Asylum seekers may use private fostering if they want to work.
If they are in the country illegally, they are likely to turn to the kind of
foster carers who do not notify the social services departments about the
children – and their parents – when they receive them. Consequently, the
children will not be supervised by social workers.

are also a growing number of teenagers who are apparently living away from
their parents. I know myself of teenagers whose aggressive behaviour has
prompted their parents to persuade neighbours or friends to take them.

social worker sent me these examples of privately fostered teenagers: a
14-year-old boy living with a 21-year-old man; a 15-year-old girl staying with
a friend of her mother’s following physical assault by her stepfather; and a
15-year-old boy in his second private foster home, which was with a woman whom
he met through his girlfriend. The behaviour of these adolescents often seemed
to prove too much for the private foster carers as well as the parents.

group of privately fostered children are language students. Children from
abroad attending language schools or on cultural exchanges who are boarded out
with private families for periods exceeding 28 days also come within the scope
of the private fostering regulations.

most students are placed with safe carers but one report from a police force,
covering 15 months, uncovered 550 incidents of neglect, and emotional and
sexual abuse. They included a lack of food, gross overcrowding and rape. The
language schools did not properly vet the carers, while social workers did not
seem to be involved at all. The police investigation had been sparked off after
they learned of a 12-year-old boy being lodged with a known sex offender.

may be other kinds of private fostering of which even less is known. Some
overseas children have been brought to the UK for adoption but, because of
irregularities, have not come within the scope of pre-adoptive children and so
are technically privately fostered. Pupils at certain independent boarding
schools who are placed with non-relatives during school holidays are also
private foster children.

director of a social work department told me of drug abusers who, unable to
cope with their children, placed them with neighbours. Others may do so while
attending rehabilitation centres.

them and their carers requires regular visits from social workers who possess
child care expertise. However, a survey published this year by the Association
of Directors of Social Services2 shows that only 16 of the 179
social services authorities in England and Wales had a "dedicated",
that is specialist, private fostering worker. Improvements are essential for
the well-being of privately fostered children. CC

B Holman, Trading in Children, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973

ADSS Survey February 2001: Local Authorities and Private Fostering,
ADSS, 2001

Holman’s study, The Unknown Fostering, will be published by Russell
House Publishing in January. Bob Holman is associated with a locally run
project in Easterhouse, Glasgow

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