8.7 Children Living Away from Home (Private Fostering)

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Last reviewed in October 2019



Revelations of the widespread abuse and neglect of children living away from home have done much to raise awareness of the particular vulnerability of such children. Many of these revelations have focused on sexual abuse, but physical and emotional abuse and neglect - including peer abuse, bullying and substance misuse - are equally a threat in institutional and other settings.


Concerns for the safety of children living away from home have to be put in the context of attention to the overall developmental needs of such children and a concern for the best possible outcomes for their health and development.


Every setting in which they live should provide the same basic safeguards against abuse, founded on an approach that promotes their general welfare, protects them from harm and treats them with dignity and respect.


These values are reflected in regulations and in the National Minimum Standards, which contain specific requirements on safeguarding and child protection for each particular regulated setting where children live away from home - see also Arrangements Regarding Recruitment and Selection of Staff Procedure and Allegations Against People who Work with, Care for or Volunteer with Children Procedure.

Essential Safeguards


The following essential safeguards should be observed in all settings such as foster care, residential care, private fostering, armed forces bases, healthcare, boarding schools (including residential special schools), Prisons, Young Offenders' Institutions, Secure Training Centres and secure units. Where services are not directly provided, these safeguards should be explicitly addressed in any contract with a service provider.


All settings must ensure that:

  • Children feel valued and respected and their self-esteem is promoted;
  • There is an openness on the part of the institution to the external world and to external scrutiny; including contact with families and the wider community;
  • Staff and foster carers are trained in all aspects of safeguarding children, are alert to children's vulnerabilities and risks of harm, and knowledgeable about how to implement safeguarding children procedures;
  • Children are listened to, and their views and concerns responded to;
  • Children have ready access to a trusted adult outside the institution, e.g. a family member, social worker, independent visitor or children's advocate. Children should be made aware of independent advocacy services, external mentors and Child Line;
  • Staff/carers recognise the importance of ascertaining the wishes and feelings of children and understand how individual children communicate by verbal or non-verbal means;
  • Complaints procedures are clear, effective, and user-friendly and are readily accessible to children and young people including those with disabilities and those for whom English is not their preferred language;
  • Bullying is effectively countered;
  • Recruitment and selection procedures are rigorous and create a high threshold of entry to deter abusers and there is effective supervision and support that extends to temporary staff and volunteers;
  • Contractor staff are effectively checked and supervised when on site or in contact with children;
  • Clear procedures and support systems are in place for dealing with expressions of concern by staff and carers about other staff or carers (a Whistle-blowing Policy);
  • There is respect for diversity, and sensitivity to race, culture, religion, gender, sexuality and disability;
  • Staff and carers are alert to the risks of harm to children in the external environment from people prepared to exploit the additional vulnerability of children living away from home.

Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered Significant Harm, the Local Authority for the area in which the child is living has the responsibility to convene a Strategy Discussion/Meeting, which should include representatives from the responsible Local Authority that placed the child, if different.


At the Strategy Discussion/Meeting it should be decided which Local Authority should take responsibility for the next steps, which may include a Section 47 Enquiry.

Foster Care


The Local Authority's duty to undertake a Section 47 Enquiry, when there are concerns about Significant Harm to a child, applies on the same basis to children in foster care as it does to children who live with their own families.


Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child in foster care has suffered or is at risk of suffering Significant Harm in the foster placement, the Allegations Against People who Work with, Care for or Volunteer with Children Procedure will apply and a Strategy Meeting will be held.


In these circumstances, enquiries should consider the safety of any other children living in the household, including the foster carers' own children, grand-children or any children cared for by the foster carers in their home as well as any children whom the foster carers may be caring for or working with outside their home in a voluntary or paid capacity e.g. teaching, faith or youth work, scouts or many other groups.


As foster care is undertaken in the privacy of the carers' own home, it is important that children have a voice outside the family. Social workers are required to see children in foster care on their own and evidence of this should be recorded on the child's records.


Foster carers should monitor the whereabouts of their foster children, their patterns of absence and contacts, and follow the recognised agency procedure whenever a foster child is missing from their home.

Private Fostering


A private fostering arrangement is essentially one that is made without the involvement of a Local Authority for the care of a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled) by someone other than a parent or close relative for 28 days or more. Privately fostered children are a diverse and sometimes vulnerable group which includes:

  • Children sent from abroad to stay with another family, usually to improve their educational opportunities;
  • Asylum-seeking and refugee children;
  • Teenagers who, having broken ties with their parents, are staying in short-term arrangements with friends or other non-relatives;
  • Language students living with host families.

Under the Children Act 1989, private foster carers and those with Parental Responsibility are required to notify the local authority of their intention to privately foster or to have a child privately fostered, or where a child is privately fostered in an emergency.


Teachers, health and other professionals should notify the local authority of a private fostering arrangement that comes to their attention, where they are not satisfied that the arrangement has been or will be notified.


It is the duty of every local authority to satisfy itself that the welfare of the children, who are privately fostered within their area, is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted. This includes an initial visit to the child and private foster carers within one week of receiving notification that the placement has started and subsequent assessment under the Assessment Framework. The local authority must also arrange to visit privately fostered children at regular intervals. Children should be given the contact details of the social worker who will be visiting them while they are being privately fostered.


All arrangements and regulations in relation to private fostering are set out in theChildren (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005.


When there are concerns about Significant Harm to a child who is privately fostered the local authority and all the other agencies have the same duties to make enquiries as they do to any other child. The concerns must be reported to the local authority where the private foster placement is located in accordance with the Making a Referral Procedure and the Child Protection and Safeguarding Children Procedures will be applied.

Children in Residential Settings


ll residential settings where children and young people are placed, including children's homes and residential schools, whether provided by a private, charitable or faith based organisation, or a local authority, must adhere to the Children's Homes Regulations and all other relevant regulations and to the relevant National Minimum Standards.


Clear records must be kept and reviews and inspections must take place in accordance with National Minimum Standards and regulations.


Children in such settings are particularly vulnerable and must be listened to.


All such establishments must have in place complaints procedures for children and young people, visiting and contact arrangements with social workers and Independent Visitors (for Looked After children), as well as parents, advocacy services.


Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child in a residential setting has suffered or is at risk of suffering Significant Harm, a referral must be made in accordance with the Making a Referral Procedure. The concerns may range from bullying or abuse by other children to allegations against staff. Where the concerns relate to a member or members of staff and/or the care the child is receiving in the residential setting, the Allegations Against People who Work with, Care for or Volunteer with Children Procedure will apply and a Strategy Meeting will be held.

Children in Hospital


Hospitals should be child-friendly, safe and healthy places for children. Wherever possible, children should be consulted about where they would prefer to stay in hospital, and their views should be taken into account and be respected. Care should be provided in an appropriate location and in an environment that is safe and well suited to the age and stage of development of the child or young person.


Children under 16 should not usually be cared for on an adult ward although if they are aged 14 or over they may be given a choice as to whether they wish to be cared for on an adult ward. Hospital admission data should include the age of children, so that hospitals can monitor whether children are being given appropriate care in appropriate wards.


Hospitals must have policies in place to ensure that their facilities are secure and regularly reviewed.


Any concerns about Significant Harm to a child within a hospital or health based setting must be referred to the Children's Social Care Services in whose area the hospital is located in accordance with the Making a Referral Procedure.


When the child has been in hospital for three months or more, the appropriate health/hospital trust must notify the Responsible Authority i.e. the local authority for the area where the child is normally resident or, if this is unclear, where the child is Accommodated. This is so that the local authority can assess the child's needs under the Assessment Framework and decide whether services are required under the Children Act 1989.


No child known to Children's Social Care who is an inpatient in a hospital and about whom there are child protection concerns should be discharged home without a referral to establish that the home environment is safe, the concerns by medical staff are fully addressed and there is a plan in place for the ongoing promotion and safeguarding of the child's welfare - see the Making a Referral Procedure and Action on Receipt of Referrals Procedure.


For further reading and information see the National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services (NSF) 2004 and the Public Inquiry into Children's Heart Surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary 1984-1995: Learning from Bristol.

Children in Custody


The local authority has the same responsibilities towards children in custody as it does to other children in the local authority area.


Young Offenders Institutions which accommodate Juveniles (16-18) must have policies and procedures in place which set out their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children and young people in their care.


Specific institutions in an area must ensure that there are links in place with the Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships and local authorities.

Children of Families Living in Temporary Accommodation


Placement in temporary accommodation, often a distance from previous support networks or involving frequent moves, can lead to individuals and families falling through the net.


It is important that effective systems are in place to ensure that children from homeless families receive services from health and education, social care and welfare support services as well as any other specific services, because with frequent moves they may become disengaged from services.  For example a child who is not registered with a school or a GP will miss out on basic services such as health screening, eye tests, immunisations and learning to read and write. Where a child who needs specific treatment misses appointments due to moves the problem may become an issue of Significant Harm. Children’s services and housing services should work together to plan and provide services that are centred on young people and their families, and prevent young people from being passed back and forth between services. For more information see Provision of accommodation for 16 and 17 year olds who may be homeless and/or require accommodation.


Temporary accommodation, for example bed and breakfast accommodation or women's refuges, may be a location which is not secure and safe and where other adults are also resident who may pose a risk to the child.


All concerns of Significant Harm to a child should be referred to Children's Social Care Services in accordance with the Making a Referral Procedure.

Children who are Left 'Home Alone' or are Left Unattended

If the child is already known to LA Children's Social Care, professionals should check whether the case record indicates a plan of action to take if the child is found alone. It may be that the file indicates the need for Police Protection or an application for an Emergency Protection Order in these circumstances.

In any case, if immediate protection of the child is assessed to be necessary, professionals should:

  • Either under Police Protection or EPO take the child to a suitable place and arrange a placement;
  • If entry cannot be gained to an unsupervised child, obtain police assistance by contacting the Safeguarding Investigations Unit or the local police station;
  • Ensure an immediate accurate record is made of the circumstances in which the child(ren) is/are found and any immediate indication of harm/risk is acted upon in line with the Procedures.

When an Emergency Protection Order is made, a warrant authorising any constable to assist in entering and searching the named premises can be obtained (Children Act 1989, s48).

In dire emergencies, the police can exercise their powers under s17(1)e of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to enter and search premises without a warrant for the purposes of saving life and limb. If this action is taken, the police may consider it appropriate for the child/ren to be placed in Police Protection (Children Act 1989, s46)

  • Leave a note for the parent or responsible adult, giving all information regarding the action to be taken and the reason, and advising them of what to do;
  • Collect the child's immediate necessities and familiar toys. Ensure the child understands as far as is possible what is happening, recognising that being taken away from home by unknown adults (one of whom may be in uniform) may be understandably more frightening to the child than being left alone.

If immediate protection is assessed as not necessary, professionals should;

  • Establish the child's understanding of the whereabouts of the parent or responsible person and of the arrangements made;
  • If the parent can be located, reunite parent and child and advise the parent of the dangers of leaving children alone;
  • If the parent or responsible person seems likely to return shortly, wait with the child;
  • If the parent or responsible adult has not returned within 30 minutes, either arrange for another responsible person to take responsibility for the child, or remove the child. A suitably responsible person could be a neighbour, relatives, someone with parental responsibility or a residence order, or friends known to and trusted by the child and professionals.

Subsequent action

On finding that a child has been left alone or is left unattended due to other reasons such as emergency hospital admission, it will be appropriate for consideration to be given to whether there needs to be further involvement with the family. An Assessment of need, including the need for protection, should always be undertaken to see if there are identifiable needs within the family and for the child. The decision made and the reasons for this must be recorded.

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This page is correct as printed on Thursday 1st of October 2020 12:58:10 PM please refer back to this website ( for updates.