Merton Council urges people to think ‘child safe’

Merton Council is calling on 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 part of this year’s Private Fostering week (21-27 March 2011), ‘Somebody Else’s Child’ run by the British Association for Adoption & Fostering, the council wants to raise awareness of the importance of having all private fostering arrangements registered with Merton’s social services. Accurate and up to date records of children and their living arrangements help social workers to ensure children living away from their parents are properly looked after and are safe and well.

Private fostering describes an arrangement where a child under the age of 16 (or 18 if they are disabled) is under the care of 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.

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.

Nobody knows exactly how many children are privately fostered, but in 2001 the Department of Health estimated that there could be as many as 10,000 in England and Wales. It is feared that some of these ‘invisible’ children could be at risk of abuse, or victims of trafficking.

Cabinet member for children’s services, Councillor Maxi Martin said: “Everybody has a role in keeping our children safe – whether you are a teacher, youth worker, neighbour or just chat to the other mums at the school gate. We want to ensure children are safe and their carers know what support and services are available to them.

“If you hear about a child who is being privately fostered please let us know immediately so we can ensure the child is being kept safe.”

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

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