Merton Council urges residents to think child safe

Ten years on from the tragic case of Victoria Climbie – a child in a private fostering arrangement who was brutally murdered in London – Merton Council is urging residents to consider the importance of keeping children’s living arrangement records up to date.

The council is asking residents to contact them if a child they know 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 as this may be considered a private fostering arrangement.

Private fostering is when a child under the age of 16 (or 18 if they are disabled) is cared for by someone who is not their parent or a ‘close relative’. This is a private arrangement made between a parent and a carer, for 28 days or more. Grandparents, older siblings, aunts and uncles and step-parents are not considered to be private foster carers.

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) is running a nationwide campaign this week, 22-28 February, called ‘Somebody else’s child’. It aims to raise awareness of private fostering arrangements and the importance of sharing details of these arrangements with their local authority.

The young person may be staying with extended family, such as an older cousin, with a friend or neighbour or with someone unknown to the child.

Commonly, children sent abroad (as was the case with Victoria Climbie), 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. Social workers will ensure the arrangement is assessed for suitability and regular welfare visits are made to the child.

Cabinet member for Childrens’ Services, Councillor Debbie Shears, says: “We want to ensure children are safe 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 or immediately if the arrangement has begun.

Notes to editors:
· For more information on private fostering advice and support in Merton visit http://www.merton.gov.uk/privatefostering or call 020 8545 4226
· For more information about BAAF’s ‘Somebody else’s child’ campaign visit http://www.privatefostering.org.uk