The case of Victoria Climbié, who was privately fostered, means we have to be vigilant about identifying exploitation and abuse
I’m a practice leader in private fostering at Warwickshire county council, and I look out for children who go under the radar of children’s services.
My days are varied and I can be doing anything from visiting teams of social workers and other agencies to chasing progress on individual cases and maintaining data sheets and development work.
Private fostering describes an arrangement that lasts for 28 days or more where a child is cared for by someone who isn’t a close relative. A close relative is defined as a grandparent, uncle, aunt, step parent or older brother or sister. Often children in private fostering arrangements are cared for by family friends or members of their extended family.
By law, parents and carers must notify local authorities of any private fostering arrangements, but in practice, they often don’t. I receive inquiries and notifications from many sources including teachers, outreach workers, health service staff and sometimes family and friends.
I start my day by checking my emails. The first email is from a social worker seeking advice on Sophie, aged eight, who has moved from living with an extended relative to living with a close relative. I confirm this is no longer a private fostering arrangement and send what I hope is a helpful reminder to the social worker of what to record. There are concerns about parental mental health which, with other issues, requires further assessment.
Private fostering is a double-edged sword, which means I have to be extra vigilant in my working life. Some children in private fostering arrangements, where their parents are unable to look after them, are well cared for by a family friend or a member of their extended family. The actor Pierce Brosnan was privately fostered while his mother trained as a nurse.
But some children who are privately fostered can become victims of child trafficking, vulnerable to domestic slavery, or be at risk of child sexual exploitation. When people remember the tragic case of Victoria Climbié, a little girl who was trafficked to the UK and murdered by her great aunt and her boyfriend, they often forget that she was privately fostered.
I flick through my next email. It is regarding Zaki, aged 15, from Yemen whose private fostering assessment seems to have taken forever due to a delay in getting a GP reference. As Zaki is an international student and staying with family friends while in the UK, we were alerted to the private fostering arrangement by the school. In order to progress things, I remind the GP practice of the Climbié case. I don’t get a reply, but the fostering team does get their reference, so I class this as a result.
It’s my job to ensure the carers, children and families receive an assessment, advice and support. The support available can include anything from access to relevant benefits, free school meals, mediation services with the child’s birth family, and access to foster care training, to more practical support such as a bed. Tailored support for children with more complex needs – for instance, if they’ve got a disability – is also available.
The rest of my day is taken up with working on an information leaflet for young people that the Children in Care council have contributed to. The laptop and I are doing battle as I try to make it look more interesting and I struggle with the layout.
According to figures from the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) only 9% of adults in the UK know what private fostering is. Yet, the most recent government estimates of the number of children in private fostering arrangements date from 2004, and indicate that there were approximately 10,000 children in private fostering arrangements. Experts now believe the figure could be far higher. This is why raising awareness of private fostering, especially among social workers and other agencies, is an important part of my role.
In the evening to unwind, I like to spend time catching up with my family, watching TV or reading, which helps me escape from the here and now. I also find sitting out in the garden on a long summer evening works wonders for relaxing the body and letting go of stress.
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