Merton residents are being advised to contact the council if their child is living with someone other than a parent or a close family member or if they themselves are caring for a child who isn’t closely related.
The council needs to know where people under the age of 16 (or 18 if the person is disabled) are living so it can help keep them safe.
To highlight the issue, an awareness day is being held today. It is the first London-wide initiative to help people understand the importance of sharing information with the council.
The young person may be staying with extended family, such as a cousin, with a friend or neighbour or with someone unknown to the child.
Commonly, children sent abroad, teenagers who have broken ties with their parents or a student staying with a host family while they study, find themselves in this situation.
Social workers at Merton Council are currently aware of a small number of children living in such an arrangement, called private fostering, but they suspect there are many more.
Cabinet member for Childrens’ Services, Councillor Debbie Shears, says: ‘We want to ensure children and their carers know what support and services are available to them. We’re also asking teachers, doctors or youth workers for help because they often speak to young people about issues of concern, including their living situation. The council wants to make sure the needs of the borough’s children are put first.’
Merton residents have a legal obligation to let the council know if they are looking after someone else’s child and they must tell social workers at least six weeks before the arrangement starts.
This week’s awareness day is being coordinated by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering. (BAAF)
David Holmes, Chief Executive of BAAF, says: ‘Private fostering arrangements are made for many reasons and can be a solution to some family situations, such as a teenager who has fallen out with their parents and goes to stay with a friend or a child who is placed overseas for their education.
‘However, tragically, some children and young people end up living with people who do not have their best interests at heart. For example, children who have been trafficked or those who have been sent here, in good faith, by parents who believe their child will have better opportunities in the UK, but in reality the child may be mistreated or abused.’