Is Emma at risk in her private fostering arrangement?

Professionals offer advice on a case involving a child separated from her parents across borders and privately fostered


Rosario, 28, has approached a school and asked them to enrol Emma, five.

However, the school has found it difficult to establish the exact relationship between her and the child as Rosario initially claimed to be Emma’s aunt.

After some probing it transpired that she was not a blood relative but, in fact, was just a friend of the family.

Rosario says the parents have sent Emma to the UK for a better life and education and they have entrusted her with looking after their child. On further questioning it is still unclear whether either Rosario or Emma are legally able to stay in the UK. Rosario refuses to produce any documentation supporting her claims.


Rosario has given her home address but will not give the names of Emma’s parents or how they can be contacted. Rosario says she sees the questions as interfering and it is nobody else’s business since it is a private arrangement between her and Emma’s family. The school has been unable to contact Emma’s parents to verify any of the details in Rosario’s story. It is assumed Emma’s parents are abroad.

The school suspects there may be immigration issues for Rosario and that this is a private fostering arrangement that has not been made known to the local authority, later confirmed by local children’s services.

Rosario says she stays away from statutory services if she can and seems to know little about Emma’s health and education history. Emma does not appear to be registered with a GP.

The school has other concerns about the child, including the fact she looks malnourished. They feel she is vulnerable and there could be safeguarding issues.

They have made a referral to the local authority’s private fostering team.

* Names have been changed

Moira Keen, Team manager, private fostering, London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Emma appears to be a privately fostered child, in that she is under 16 years old and living with someone who is not a close relative, in an arrangement likely to be in place for more than 28 days. Within 24 hours of the school notifying the council of its concerns, the Tower Hamlets Private Fostering Team would arrange for a dedicated social worker to carry out an initial assessment of the arrangement and the school’s concerns.

Emma would be spoken to independently of Rosario to establish the extent of her understanding about her fostered situation, whether the care given to her by Rosario met her needs, and what her thoughts and feelings were about her locality.

Although the social worker would work hard to build relations with Rosario to overcome her dislike of engaging with public services, she would be challenged on her inability to contact Emma’s parents. Establishing whether the parents agreed to the arrangement would be a priority.

The social worker would also try to establish when Emma arrived in the UK by asking Rosario for copies of their travel and identity documentation; confirming Rosario’s claims by liaising with the UKBA. If necessary, Rosario would be asked to apply to regulate Emma’s status in the UK.

If, at any time, the social worker was concerned that Emma was at risk of significant harm in Rosario’s care or that she had been brought into the country for abusive reasons (i.e domestic servitude), they would invoke child protection procedures.

The school would be asked for reports about Emma’s progress, attendance and general presentation, as well as Rosario’s engagement with the school. Likewise the school nurse would be asked to carry out a baseline health assessment of Emma, ensuring that the gaps in the information provided by Rosario were filled.

Any recommendations made from the assessment process would continue to be monitored through six-weekly visits.

Savita de Sousa, Policy consultant, Private fostering & black minority ethnic issues, BAAF

Emma is a vulnerable child due to the detachment from her parents or anyone with parental responsibility for her, particularly since her immigration status is unknown.

The concerns about malnutrition would make this a safeguarding issue which should be investigated urgently. The child could also be trafficked and it is particularly concerning that the private foster carer knows very little about the child’s history, including medical history.

A multi-agency safeguarding team needs to be involved to investigate all such concerns, to decide whether a protection plan is needed. The legal department should also be consulted as to whether the child should be accommodated.

The private foster carer’s reluctance to engage is another concern. Without this information the school and children’s services cannot establish the wishes of the parents or gain their agreement for the child to remain with the carer.

The local authority can undertake measures to prohibit the arrangement or prosecute the private foster carer under s70, Children Act 1989. The local authority also has a duty to notify the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to check the legal status of the private foster carer and child.

Good communication among all the professionals concerned is important and the school should ask to be kept informed.

Finally, professionals should be aware that, for some people, differences in ethnicity, culture, language or religion make it difficult to contact the local authority.

At the same time, for others resistance to notifying the local authority may be due to concerns that the arrangement will be seen as unsuitable, because they have something to hide or simply because they think it’s nobody’s business but their own.

The case shows the need for statutory agencies to work with specialist voluntary agencies to understand cultural issues and signs of abuse such as trafficking.

Meena Enawalla, Operations manager, Children and Families Across Borders

Private fostering arrangements for children from overseas present unique challenges. It is crucial to keep Emma at the heart of practice.

The definition and regulation of private fostering is exclusive to the UK and no other country uses it. Emma’s parents are required to notify the local authority, but only if Emma is not being cared for by a “close relative”. Failure to notify the local authority is a punishable offence but this is difficult to enforce in another country.

Does Emma’s mother know how to make a notification? There is no information on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website about how to proceed with a private fostering arrangement overseas. Emma is not entitled to school and health provision, but most authorities will provide a service and know about her.

Since the school has concerns, the local authority has a duty to investigate. Our questions are:

● What is the relationship between Rosario and Emma’s mother? Can this be verified?

● Where are her parents? Do we need a DNA test?

● How did Emma enter the UK and what is Rosario’s motivation to care her? Has Emma been trafficked or smuggled?

● Do we take her into care? Do we need an Order and is it transferable overseas?

● Should we re-unite Emma with her family and what are her feelings?

Emma should not only be assessed because she may be privately fostered, but because she is a child and separated across international borders with no satisfactory explanation as to why she is here.

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