Campaign Highlights Abuse Risk Of ‘Private Fostering’

Thousands of children unofficially cared for by adults who are not close relations are “invisible” and vulnerable to abuse, an adoption charity said today.

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) launched a national campaign against “private fostering”, urging people to report neighbours who are caring for someone else’s child long-term.

Private fostering is when a youngster is looked after by adults who are not close family for more than a month.

Close relatives are defined as grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings.

The charity stressed that in these situations, the local authority must be informed to ensure the children are safe.

Measures to regulate private fostering were brought in after the death of Victoria Climbie, the eight-year-old violently abused and murdered by her great aunt Marie Therese Kouao and the woman’s boyfriend Carl Manning.

She had been sent to the UK from the Ivory Coast by her parents, who thought she would have a better life.

David Holmes, chief executive of BAAF said: “Children in private fostering situations can be invisible and it is very difficult to estimate accurate numbers.

“While most children in private fostering situations will be well cared for, some may not be. It is those children we are concerned about. Therefore if people suspect a child is being privately fostered in their local community, please do not to ignore it. Either talk to your neighbour or, if appropriate, call your local council.”

One woman recalled how she was sent to London from Nigeria as an eight-year-old to be educated, but instead was forced to work as a domestic slave in strangers’ homes.

Her mother’s relative hired her out as a cleaner and childminder, and it was only six years later when one customer realised her age that social services intervened.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said: “If they are not registered they have the power to use the child for anything they want.

“As it is not their own child they might not care what happens.

“My aunty told my parents I was coming here for education but she took me for slavery.”

Research carried out on the BAAF’s behalf revealed 22% of adults would do nothing if an unrelated child suddenly moved in next door, and 7% would not act if they disappeared.

The most common reason was that people felt it was none of their business, the poll revealed.

BAAF estimates that more than 10,000 children in England and Wales are being privately fostered.

They include runaway teenagers, youngsters whose parents are in prison, children sent to the UK for education or those who have been brought here by traffickers.

The research was carried out by ICM who polled 1,979 adults online between December 5 and 7 last year.