Nearly half of “invisible” privately fostered children experience anxiety and one-third would like support from social workers, according to research by the British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).
A survey of 1,021 nine- to 16-year-olds, commissioned by BAAF as part of its Somebody Else’s Child campaign, revealed that more than 1 in 10 children in England and Wales could have been privately fostered in so-called “invisible” arrangements.
The survey found that 46% of the children who had been privately fostered said they have felt worried, lonely or sad while being cared for in this way, while 42% did not believe that anyone outside the family knew about their situation.
Although 80% of the children surveyed felt they were well looked after, 15% said the care was “only okay” and 6% felt they were not well looked after. About one-third (31%) said they would welcome support from a social worker.
David Holmes, chief executive of BAAF, said: “This research is important because it tells us what children and young people think about private fostering [and] gives us important new evidence about the potential prevalence of these arrangements.”
The research found that parents and carers may not always be telling local authorities, as required, of private fostering arrangements, making it more difficult to safeguard privately fostered children.
“There still are too many who are not telling anyone and some of these invisible children could be at risk,” Holmes said.
“The possible extent of private fostering as revealed by this survey is concerning,” Holmes said. “With fewer than 2,000 notifications to local authorities last year, it could indicate that this information did not get through to the local authority.
BAAF’s campaign aims to raise awareness of private fostering – where a child under 16, or 18 if they are disabled, is cared for by someone other than a parent or close relative, in agreement with the parent, for more than 28 days.
“We are urging anyone working in schools, hospitals, GPs’ surgeries, mental health services and probation services to learn about private fostering and work together with local authorities to ensure that children are safeguarded.”
About 25% of children surveyed said they became privately fostered because their parents were on holiday; 17% because their parents had long term health problems; 9% due to a family row; and 5% because their parents were in prison.
BAAF also urged private foster carers, parents and members of the public to notify their local council directly if they are aware of a private fostering arrangement.