More foster carers needed

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Northumberland County Council is asking for families, professionals who work with families and also members of the public who are aware of a privately arranged care situation for any child in Northumberland, to encourage the carer and / or parent to come forward and contact their local Children’s Services office.

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 of the child. This means someone who isn’t a grandparent, uncle, aunt, step parent or older brother or sister. By law, parents and carers must notify local authorities of any private fostering arrangements. While most privately fostered young people will be well cared for, some may not. In some extreme cases they may be subjected to abuse and exploitation. Notifying the local council of a private fostering arrangement, helps to keep the child and family protected and also can provide the family additional supports that they would otherwise not have received from their local council.

There lots of reasons why a parent might ask somebody else to look after their child, some examples are:

• Children coming from abroad to access the education and health systems

• Children living with a friend’s family after separation, divorce or arguments at home

• Teenagers living with the family of a boyfriend or girlfriend

• People who come to this country to study or work, but antisocial hours make it difficult for them to care for their own children.

Families can receive support and guidance in private fostering situations, which often suit the children and the families, as the children know who they are staying with. Fiona Brown, Northumberland County Council’s lead for Private Fostering highlights one example of how Children’s Services have helped to support a family that have a private child care arrangement (NB: Names have been changed to respect privacy and confidentiality):

Grace is privately fostered by her godmother Joanne. There is a very strong bond between Grace and Joanne, as Joanne has been part of Grace’s and her mum Amanda’s life since Grace was a tiny baby. She has helped to babysit and look after Grace for at least twice a week including weekends. This was to support Amanda to go out with her friends, and when she started working night shifts. Joanne treats Grace like one of her own children, and is like part of the family.

Children’s Services were alerted about the privately arranged child care through Amanda’s visits with her doctor. Amanda was visiting the doctor as she was experiencing a low mood and was having suicidal thoughts. As Amanda had been feeling this way, she had asked for support from Joanne, and she also had what she described as a ‘drink problem’, and Amanda did not wish to be drinking in front of Grace. Amanda is happy that Grace is with Joanne, as Joanne is not a stranger, as both her and Grace both trust Joanne.

Children’s Services offered help and guidance to the family after getting to know Amanda through their initial assessment. There were times where Amanda had been making poor choices around her alcohol intake when she was looking after Grace; and so at times, Amanda had not been ensuring Grace had a safe environment.

Amanda’s supporting social worker helped to work out a plan to help Amanda work towards and to enable her to be able to fully care for Grace. This plan entails prompts, advice and phone numbers around housing and financial help. It aims to help Amanda improve her health & well-being and her low mood. At the moment Amanda is working through the plan and her social worker visits every month to review her progress.

Amanda sees Grace most days, helping with occasional school runs and having tea together. Joanne ensures boundaries are kept within the family and Grace is returned home at an appropriate time, so that Grace can have her bath and do homework before she goes to bed. Grace does not stop over with Amanda.

Everyone in the family has told Children’s Services how they feel they have benefitted from the Northumberland Social Worker being involved. They wanted to share their story to tell other people how it can help them in their private fostering situations.

Councillor Robert Arckless, Policy Member for Children’s Services said, “Everybody has a role in keeping our children safe – whether you are a parent, carer, teacher, youth worker, neighbour, people involved with school transport or a member of the public. Northumberland is encouraging everyone to be aware of the legal requirement of letting us know about a private fostering arrangement, but also is promoting the value of the support and guidance that is available to our children and families.”

Visit to read further about private fostering and to get details of your local Northumberland office.

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