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Council Services:

Private Fostering

It is estimated that 10,000 children in England are privately fostered. However, many of these are unreported, despite legal requirements under the Children Act.

What is private fostering?

Private fostering is defined as:

  • When a child or young person under the age of 16 (or 18 if they have a disability) is cared for by someone who is not a close relative for 28 days or more.
  • When a child lives with someone from their extended family such as a great aunt, great uncle, or their parent's cousins.
  • When a child lives with a friend of the family or of the child.

It is not a private fostering arrangement when a child is living with a close relative such as a grandparent, brother, aunt or step parent.

Common examples of private fostering

There are a number of reasons why a parent may be unable to care for their own child on a short or long-term basis, including:

  • Children sent to this country for education or health care by parents who live overseas.
  • A teenager living with a friend's family because of issues at home.
  • Children living with a friend's family because their parents' study or work involves unsociable hours, which makes it difficult to use ordinary day care or after school care.
  • A child from overseas staying with a host family whilst attending a school or college.

A lot of people don't realise they are private foster carers as they have made informal arrangements with friends. Parents and carers are required by law to inform Children's Services is they have a private fostering arrangement in place. If you don't tell us, you are committing an offence and could risk a fine.

The following three case studies give more detailed examples of private fostering arrangements:

Adam’s Story

Adam’s dad left the family when Adam was three and hasn’t contacted him or his mum since. Adam was very close to his mum, but last year his mum got a new boyfriend, Don.

Adam didn’t get on with Don and they argued constantly, he found he was spending more time at his girlfriend Lisa’s house than at home. Adam gets on very well with Lisa’s parents and they said he could stay whenever he wanted. After a big fall out with Don, Adam said he wanted to go and stay with Lisa’s family. Adam’s mum and Don thought this was a good idea because the arguments were very upsetting and starting to have an effect on Don’s children who are a lot younger than Adam. Adam’s mum told the local authority that he would be staying with Lisa’s parents for a while and visit regularly to help them all to get on and to give everyone a break.

Because Lisa’s parents are now Adam’s private foster carers Adam has a social worker, Rick, who visits to check that he is being well looked after and that he is still doing well in school. Rick also helps Adam to think of why he argues with Don and how he can visit his mum without fighting with Don and upsetting the other children in the house.

Makiwa’s Story

Makiwa is six. He was born in Nigeria but his mother is very ill, and his father has to work very long hours, so they thought it best that he came to England to live with his ‘Auntie Gloria’ (his mother’s cousin).

Makiwa hadn’t met his Auntie Gloria before, but his father flew over with him on the plane and stayed for a week until he felt he had settled in.

Makiwa misses his parents, but he phones them every week and writes letters to them. He is very happy at his new school in England.

Auntie Gloria is Makiwa’s private foster carer and every six weeks Ruth, who is Makiwa’s social worker, comes to make sure everything is ok.

Makiwa enjoys chatting with Ruth because he gets to talk about all his worries and show Ruth what he has been doing at school. Ruth helped Makiwa to think of the right words to tell Auntie Gloria that he doesn’t like it when the neighbours’ big dog, Ben, comes to play.

Rebecca’s Story

Rebecca’s mum died when she was only six and she now lives with her dad. He works on an oil rig, which means that sometimes he has to be away for three or four months at a time.

Rebecca is now 13 and loves living with her dad and around the corner from her friends, so when her dad goes to work on the oil rig, she stays with her ‘Auntie Carol’. Rebecca isn’t related to ‘Auntie Carol’, but she was her mum’s best friend and Rebecca has known her for as long as she can remember. Staying with her means she can still go to her school and meet up with friends and also go round to her own house every day to feed her cat, Molly.

While her dad is away on the oil rig, ‘Auntie Carol’ is Rebecca’s private foster carer and Steve, who is Rebecca’s social worker, visits to make sure she is happy and everything is going well.

What should I do?

If you are a private foster carer:

  • You must inform Children's Services at least six weeks before a child comes to live with you.
  • If the arrangement is made in an emergency, you must inform Children's Services within 48 hours of the child coming to live with you.
  • If you already have a child living with you and haven't yet informed Children's Services, you must do so straight away.
  • You must inform Children's Services at least 48 hours before a child leaves your care. You'll have to tell us where the child is going to live next.

If you are a parent of the child, or any other person involved in or aware of a private fostering arrangement:

  • You must inform Children's Services straight away.

What happens next?

A social worker will arrange a visit and speak to the carer and members of the household in their own home, within seven working days.

A social worker will also speak to the child and visit the parents where possible.

Children's Services will give you information about private fostering, including details of support and advice available in Lincolnshire for carers, children and parents.

Private foster carers will have to give us information about the child, themselves and other members of the household.

A social worker will visit the child regularly and review the private fostering arrangement to make sure the child is safe and being well cared for.

Why are Children's Services involved?

The Children Act 1989 gives Children's Services a legal duty to safeguard the wellbeing of privately fostered children.

This includes making sure they are:

  • Safe and well looked after.
  • Healthy.
  • Receiving a proper education.
  • Being encouraged to reach their full potential.
  • Keeping in touch with the people who are important to them.
  • Living with someone who helps them value their culture and sense of identity.
  • Properly supported when they become independent.


For more information, or to talk to someone about a private fostering arrangement:
Tel: 01522 782111

Watch Somebody Else's Child, a guide to private fostering


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Somebody Else's Child

Watch the 'Somebody Else's Child - A guide to private fostering' video

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Last updated: 24 June 2015

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