Trend towards private fostering of teenagers expected to shatter myth

Teenagers estranged from their families are becoming the
predominant privately fostered group, say experts.

In Swindon and Gloucestershire – two councils leading the way in
identifying and monitoring private foster carers – an increasing
number of local 14 and 15 year olds are living under private
fostering arrangements.

Most have left the family home without their parents’ consent to
live with friends, boyfriends or girlfriends. Others are placed
with friends of their parents under informal arrangements.

If this picture is mirrored in other councils where monitoring of
private fostering is less sophisticated, it would dispel the myth
that such arrangements are used predominantly to look after
children from west Africa sent to live with carers in the UK for a
better education.

Figures from Swindon show that about one in 10 of its looked-after
children are privately fostered, with only 10 of 40 privately
fostered being of west African origin.

A few years ago this figure was four times that.

Angus Geddes, senior social worker at Swindon’s family placement
team, said local teenagers were more difficult to identify because
they were more transient, while west African carers had stronger
links with community and faith groups.

“The stereotype of west African children being privately fostered
is not necessarily true any longer,” Geddes said.

“We are getting more referrals from education welfare officers
about local teenagers being privately fostered. A lot of them have
the same issues as looked-after children.”

Last week, the government said it hoped to include plans in next
month’s Children’s Bill to give local authorities new duties to
monitor private foster carers and the children they look after and
to forge closer ties with agencies and the community in order to
improve understanding of the issue.

Regulations for each council to appoint a dedicated private
fostering officer and for the local children’s safeguarding board
to monitor private fostering arrangements – with the help of
ring-fenced money – are likely to follow the bill.

If this beefed-up system failed, the government said it could
introduce a register of carers. 

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