Private Fostering

What is private fostering?

Private fostering is essentially a private placement of a child made by a parent or a carer with parental responsibility for the child (which may be provided until a child is 16 or 18 if disabled) with someone who is not a relative.

Parental responsibility for the child is retained by the parents, which they exercise in agreement with the private foster parent.  Responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the privately fostered child also rests with the parents.

A Health and Social Care Trust has a duty to satisfy itself that the welfare of the child is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted by others by supervising, regulating and advising in respect of the private placement.

Private Fostering arrangements arise for a variety of reasons i.e.

  • Children living with a friend’s family after separation, divorce or difficulties at home;
  • Teenagers living with the family of a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend;
  • Children who come from abroad for a visit to Northern Ireland or children from here, other parts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland who visit for more than 28 days with “host” families or carers;
  • Children from abroad brought to live here by unrelated adults or families, some of whom may be exercising EU treaty rights of abode in the UK;
  • Children sent to Northern Ireland from abroad for educational purposes who are living in the homes of families or carers who are unrelated to them;
  • Children “gifted” by their parents as part of traditional practices within particular cultures to other families or carers who cannot have children;
  • Children of people who are studying or working in Northern Ireland, but anti-social hours make it difficult for them to care for their own children and they place them with other families or carers; and
  • Children from overseas brought to Northern Ireland for hospital treatment through charitable or voluntary organisations and who, as part of the pre-treatment or recovery need to stay more than  28 days with a host family or carer.

A child is not a privately fostered child if the person caring for and accommodating him/her:

(a) has done so for a period of less than 28 days; and

(b) does not intend to do so for any longer period.

While the majority of children cared for in private fostering situations may be safe from harm and exploitation (physical, emotional and sexual) it is vital that the Health and Social Care Trust in whose area the child is living is notified of the proposed or on-going arrangement and is able to satisfy itself of arrangements.

What to do if you are thinking about placing your child with a private foster carer/s

There is a requirement for the parents and others with parental responsibility to give written notification to a Trust of their intention to place a child under a private fostering arrangement and to notify the Trust of any changes to existing arrangements.  Details of the content of notification and timescales, including those relating to emergency placements, are available for your local Trusts or the Trust in the area in which the child will be living. Please contact the Gateway Team for further information and guidance.

Failure to comply may be an offence under Article 117(1) (a) of the Children (NI) Order 1995.

What to do if you are privately fostering a child or considering this

There is a requirement for the private foster carer (proposed private foster carer), to give written notification to the Trust of their intention to care for a child under a private fostering arrangement.

Details of the content of notification and timescales, including those relating to emergency placements are available for your local Health and Social Care Trust. Please contact your local Gateway Service for further information and guidance.

Failure to comply may be an offence under Article 117(1) (a) of the Children (NI) Order 1995.

What to do if you have any concerns or queries in relation to private fostering

Anyone who becomes aware of a situation which may be a Private Fostering situation should notify their local Trust’s Gateway Service. The Trust will be able to ascertain whether or not they are aware of the situation.

In the interests of safeguarding the child where it is clear that the Trust has not been involved the Trust will act to satisfy itself that the child is safe and well cared for.

What are the responsibilities of the Trust in whose area the child has been placed?

Health and Social Care Trust staff and practitioners should be alert to the need for such arrangements to be notified to the Trust. In the interests of safeguarding children where the Trust has not been involved, or where the practitioner is unable to ascertain this with certainty, the practitioner should refer the matter to the Trust’s Gateway Service. This equally applies to situations where the child is apparently well cared for and there are no known concerns about his or her welfare.

While the responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of a privately fostered child rests with parents,  law states, that every Trust shall satisfy itself that the welfare of children who are privately fostered within its area are being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted.  Trusts should also ensure that such advice is given to those caring for privately fostered children as appears to the Trust to be needed.

The Trust is required to ensure visits are made to private foster homes including requiring that a child is seen alone.

The role of a Trust is to satisfy itself that the welfare of the child is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted by others by supervising, regulating and advising in respect of the private placement.

If a Trust is not satisfied about the welfare of a privately fostered child, it must inform the parents or those with parental responsibility for the child of its concerns.

Recourse to the child protection procedures or to exercising any other of its powers may be required in some situations to ensure that the welfare of the privately fostered child is safeguarded and promoted.

For further information or advice please contact:-

Belfast Health Care Trust Gateway Service on:- 
028 9050 7000

South Eastern Health Care Trust Gateway Service on:- 
0300 1000 300

Northern Health Care Trust Gateway Service on:- 
0300 1234 333

Southern Health Care Trust Gateway Service on:- 
0800 7837 745

Western Health Care Trust Gateway Service on:- 
028 7131 4090

Additional information is also available on the DHSSPS Website by clicking here.