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Private fostering

Is someone else looking after your child?

Private fostering is the term used when a parent or primary carer places a child under the age of 16 (or 18, if disabled) in the care of someone else, who is not a close relative or officially approved foster carer, for a period of more than 28 days.

You might be in a private foster care arrangement without realising it.

The Children Act 2004 defines 'relative', in relation to a child, as a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt. They could be a full or half relation and could be related by marriage. The term also includes step-parent. A cohabitee of the mother or father of the child would not qualify as a relative, neither would extended family such as great aunt/uncle or parent's cousins.

We, as a local authority, have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of all privately fostered children.

This information is for parents who will be placing their children, or have placed their children, with private foster carers. The aim is to help you to understand more about the law on private fostering and the role of St Helens Borough Council.

What is private fostering?

Private fostering is an option sometimes used by parents who cannot provide full-time care for their children. There may be all kinds of reasons for this; some examples are:

  • Children sent to this country for education or healthcare by parents living overseas
  • Children living with a friend's family as a result of parental separation, divorce or arguments at home
  • Teenagers living with the family of a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Children whose parents have to be admitted to hospital for long periods

If your child is living with someone who is not related to them, they are being privately fostered (unless the child has been placed by the local authority or voluntary organisation, or they will not be staying for more than 27 days).

Who might be a private foster carer?

  • neighbour
  • friend
  • your child's friend's parent
  • non-biological aunt and/or uncle
  • great aunt and/or great uncle

Who do I need to inform?

You will need to inform St Helens Borough Council.

The law requires that in all cases of private fostering, our Children and Young People's Services need to be notified. This is because St Helens Borough Council has a legal duty to ensure that children who are looked after by someone else are kept safe and well.

For more information and advice about what to do next, or if you have any queries relating to private fostering, please contact:

Call: 01744 676789




If your child is of school age, you will need to discuss plans for their education with the private foster carer before the placement starts.

It is best if both you and the private foster carer can arrange to visit the relevant school before the placement starts, so that you can:

  • Give the name and address of your child's previous school(s) so that school records can be transferred, and the new school will be aware of your child's progress and of any difficulties they have had.
  • Discuss directly with the school your child's background and educational needs. Racial, cultural and linguistic needs should also be considered.
  • Discuss how long your child will be at school, admission dates etc.


You need to inform the carer of:

  • Your child's GP, dentist etc
  • Any medication or treatment they are receiving
  • Any allergies or intolerances to certain foods etc

Making the private fostering arrangement work

It is important that you work together with the private foster carers, Children and Young People's Services, and all other childcare professionals involved, in order to ensure that the arrangement is as successful as possible for your child.

The needs of Black and Minority Ethnic children

Current research clearly suggests that it is best for children to live in a family who have the same racial, ethnic, cultural and religious background. Carers with a similar background to your child are better placed to help your child understand their racial history, provide for their particular needs and help them to develop a positive sense of themselves.

You will need to think very carefully before placing your child with a private foster carer whose ethnic origin is different from that of your child. Our Children and Young People's Services have to consider if your child's religious, racial, cultural and language needs are being met. This will be an important part of the assessment.

What information do I need?

  • Your child's name, date of birth, religion, racial origin and language
  • How long you expect the child to stay with the carer(s)
  • Why the arrangement is needed
  • Your name and address and the details of anyone else who has parental responsibility for them
  • The date you expect the private fostering arrangement to start (or when the arrangement started, if it has begun)
  • The carer's previous addresses for the last five years
  • If you are aware of any criminal convictions of the carer(s)
  • If the carer(s) have applied to privately before and been disqualified

Once all the checks are complete, the worker will write a report about the carer(s), the suitability of their home, your involvement your child's views and the reasons and intended length of the foster care arrangement. Our Children and Young People's Services will then make a decision about the carer(s) suitability to become a private foster carer(s).

The worker will inform you about the decision and, as part of the arrangement, they may need to impose some requirements; for example, limiting the number of children a private foster carer may have living with them.

If the arrangement is agreed after the arrangement has been agreed, a worker will continue to support the private foster carer and your child. St Helens Borough Council has a legal requirement to see children in private foster care arrangements regularly, at least once every six weeks during the first year. If the child is old enough, there may be arrangements to see the child on their own.

There will be a review of the arrangements every 12 months.

What happens next?

By law, you are required to advise St Helens Borough Council about any private fostering arrangement:

a) if you have already placed your child with private carers, you must notify our Children and Young People's Services immediately (within 48 hours) on telephone number 01744 676789.

b) if you have arranged, or are in the process of arranging, to place your child with private foster carers, you must give Children and Young People's Services at least six weeks' written notice of your intentions.

What happens after that?

We have a legal duty to check that the placement, the private foster carers and their premises are all suitable. So once you have told us about the proposed or current private fostering arrangement, the assessing social worker will ask the private foster carer for their permission to carry out our standard statutory checks.

These include:

  • Enhanced Disclosure Barring Service
  • Social services checks
  • Department of Health

Any other household member over the age of 16 will also have to agree to have these checks performed. If they do not agree to these checks, or a member of their household does not agree, we will not be able to proceed with the assessment and you will have to arrange for alternative care to be provided.

Will I have to pay?

Any financial arrangements are made between you and the private foster carer.

As the child's parent, you retain financial responsibility for them.

Ideally, these arrangements should be set down in writing. Our Children and Young People's Services will not become involved in these arrangements.