Private foster care

Information on private foster care, including how you become a foster carer, what that means and what support is available.

Private foster care is a private arrangement where a child under 16 years old (or under 18 years old if the child has a disability) is looked after for 28 days or more by someone who is not their parent or close relative, such as a:

  • great aunt or great uncle
  • cousin
  • unmarried former partner of a parent
  • neighbour or friend.

The Children Act 1989 defines a close relative as a grandparent, uncle or aunt, brother or sister, half-brother or half-sister by marriage or civil partnership. You cannot be a private foster carer if you are a close relative.

How you become a private foster carer

You become a private foster carer by agreeing arrangements with the child’s parents.

You, the child’s parents, anyone else with parental responsibility or anyone directly involved in the arrangement must tell your local council’s children’s services department about the arrangement as soon as possible.

Children’s services must be notified at least six weeks before the arrangement is due to start. If the arrangement is due to start within six weeks, they should be notified immediately.

A social worker will visit you and the child and speak with the child’s parents to carry out suitable checks, including Disclosure and Baring Services (DBS) checks. Children’s services will continue to visit regularly for as long as the arrangement is in place.

If a social worker is part of the process when making the arrangement, legally the child may be in the care of children’s services. If so, a social worker should complete a viability assessment, unless the child is placed in your care as an emergency.

If you are not clear what type of kinship care arrangement you have, get legal advice as soon as possible.

Parental responsibility

As a private foster carer, you do not have parental responsibility for the child.

The child’s parents can ask you to make day-to-day decisions about the child’s care. But only a parent can make bigger decisions on things like non-emergency medical treatment, the child’s education, and if you plan to travel abroad.

A child’s parent can end a private fostering arrangement at any time and without notice.

If you think there is a good reason why a child should stay in your care, you may want to apply for a child arrangements order or special guardianship order.

A legal order will give you parental responsibility and family security. However, you should always get legal advice before making any decisions.

Financial support

In most cases, the child’s parents must provide financial support, though we often find that they are unable or do not want to.

If the child’s parents are in work, you can ask them to provide support on an informal basis. If they refuse, you can ask the Child Maintenance Service (GOV.UK) to get involved, though you will usually have to pay a fee.

You may also be able to claim the same government benefits as other parents, including Child Benefit, Universal Credit (GOV.UK) and Pension Credit (GOV.UK).

If children’s services decide the child is ‘in need’, they may offer family support services under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989, which can include financial help.

If you are caring for a child in the care of children’s services, even in an emergency, you can claim a foster carer allowance at the same rate as any other foster carer in your local area. You should not be paid less because you are a kinship carer.

Financial support for private foster carers

Support from Kinship

Here at Kinship, we offer a range of free support for all kinship carers, including workshops, online advice and information, and peer support groups. While we don’t provide specific support for private foster carers, you may find some of our services useful.

Contact our advice service to speak to an adviser or book an appointment.