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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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Private arrangement and private fostering

This page looks at two different types of informal kinship care arrangement. The first is a private family arrangement. The second is private fostering.  These are not the same thing. But in each of these arrangements, the kinship carers will not have parental responsibility for the child.

Important note:

If a social worker is involved in placing a child with a relative or friend, that kinship carer may be may be entitled to be treated as a foster carer. This may be very helpful in terms of getting help (including financial help) to look after the child.

We recommend that anyone in this position seek legal advice, to make sure they are getting all the support they are entitled to. This could be from a specialist children law solicitor or from Family Rights Group. There is more information about kinship foster care in our Kinship foster care section. And details of how to seek legal advice are included at the end of this page.

Private family arrangement

What is a private family arrangement?

A private family arrangement is where a close family member who does not hold responsibility, steps in to raise the child and:

  • Children’s services has had no major role in making the arrangements for the child, and
  • Matters have not been considered by the Family Court.

A close relative in this situation means any of the following:

  • Grandparent, brother, sister, uncle, or aunt (whether full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership)
  • Stepparent (a married stepparent, including a civil partner).

This definition of close relative comes from section 105 of the Children Act 1989.

Does someone have to be assessed to care for a child under a private family arrangement? Will they gain parental responsibility?

No. There is no assessment involved.

Even when an informal kinship carer has been caring for the child for some time they will not have parental responsibility. The carer may make important day-to-day decisions on behalf of the parents. But they will not be able to make important decisions. For example, decisions about medical treatment. Or about travel abroad. A parent or other person with parental responsibility can at any point remove the child from the carer.

Private fostering

What is private fostering?

Someone maybe a private foster carer if they :

  • Are not a close relative of the child they are caring for, and
  • Are not a local authority approved foster carer
  • Have looked after the child or 28 days or more.

See section 66(1)(a) and (b) of the Children Act 1989.

Should children’s services be told about a private fostering arrangement?

Yes. The law says that someone who is a private foster carer (or intends to be) must tell children’s services. This should be done:

  • At least six weeks before the private fostering arrangement is to begin or
  • Immediately if the arrangement is going to begin within six weeks.

The law says others who are aware of the arrangement also have a responsibility to let children’s services know. They should do this as soon as possible. This includes:

  • Anyone involved (directly or indirectly) in the arrangement
  • The child’s parents
  • Anyone else with parental responsibility for the child.

See regulation 3(1) of The Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005.

What if the private fostering arrangement ends?

If the private fostering arrangement comes to an end the private foster carer must:

  • Let children’s services know within 48 hours
  • Provide the name and address of the person who is now caring for the child
  • Confirm that person’s relationship with the child.

See regulation 10 of The Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005.

Is being a private foster carer the same as providing fostering through a private fostering agency?

No. when someone provides fostering through a private agency, the child is a looked after child.  And the foster carer is provided ith financial and other support like any other approved foster carer. Private fostering is different. The rest of the FAQs below explain more.

Does someone need to be assessed to care for a child under private fostering?

Once children’s services are told about a private fostering arrangement they must:

  • Assess the carer
  • Visit and speak with the child
  • Speak to the child’s parents
  • Speak to the private foster carer and anyone else living in their household
  • Carry out suitability checks. This includes Disclosure and Baring Services (DBS) checks. These must be done on everyone in the household who is over the age of 16 years.

This is all set out in regulation 4 of The Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005

What duties do children’s services have when a private fostering arrangement is in place?

Children’s services must visit the child every six weeks for the first year of the arrangement.

After that visits can take place less frequently but not less than every 12 weeks (3 months).

See regulation 8 of The Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005.

Help and support for kinship carers and children in private family arrangements or private fostering arrangements

The child’s parents remain financially responsible for the child throughout the time that they are living with a kinship carer. But:

  • In many cases the parents will not be able provide money or support  because they cannot afford to do this
  • If the parents are working they can be asked directly for support if it seems they have money to contribute
  • Where parents refuse, a kinship carer can ask the child maintenance service to help get the money. This is not a free service though.  More information about this is available at:
  • The child maintenance calculator tool may be helpful too. This can help to see what the right level of support may be. It can helpful even if the child maintenance service is not being used.

Is there extra help that can be given to kinship carers raising a child in a private family arrangement or in private fostering? Does this have to come from children’s services?

Below we explain two ways families can get support from local services and agencies. The first is via Early help. The second is via children’s services where the child being raised is a child in need.

Early help

Government statutory guidance called Working Together 2018 says practitioners working with families should be alert to families who may need early help services. It may be that a child needs extra support for their physical development. Or, needs some help for their emotional well-being. The guidance includes some examples of situations in which children who may need extra help services. Children in private fostering arrangements are included. So too are children with disabilities, those with special educational needs. Children facing a range of other challenging situations may need early help services too. (see Working Together 2018, page 14 at paragraph 6,  and you can read about these examples on our Early help page too).

The aim

Early help aims for agencies to work together to provide support as soon as problems emerge. This is because tackling a problem early can stop things getting worse. Education (schools, nurseries), housing, and health services are all examples of agencies. Early Help can be given to a family with a child up to age 18. So, the child may be a baby, toddler, at primary school or a teenager.

What and who is involved?

The early help process starts with an early help assessment. Social workers are not involved in early help assessments or providing early help services. But sometimes they ask early help services to provide assistance to children and families they are working with.

See our Early help page for more information. This includes FAQs explaining:

  • How to request an early help assessment
  • What an early help assessment involves and how families should be involved in the process
  • Types of early help services.

Child in need

There is a general legal duty on children’s services departments to work to keep children safe, well cared for and, at home unless this would place them at risk. To help achieve this, children’s services must provide a range and level of services in their local area to help children ‘in need’. And to help their families (see section 17(1) of the Children Act 1989).

A child in need is a child who needs extra support or services to help them achieve or maintain ‘a reasonable standard of health or development’ (see section 17(1) of the Children Act 1989). All disabled children are classed as children in need.

Child in need assessment

Where a child or family may need this extra support, children’s services should carry out a child in need assessment. This aims to:

  • Work out if the child is in need or not
  • Decide whether the child is in need enough to get services in that local area
  • Find out what support and services may most help the child and their family.

Local children’s services departments have their own measures for deciding which children are in need enough to get services. These should be set out in a local threshold document. A local threshold document helps social workers decide if a child is likely to get any extra help or services. The threshold document (or the measures in it) may be called ‘eligibly criteria’ in some areas. Slightly different measures or ‘thresholds’ apply in different local areas.

See our Child in need page for important information and advice about:

  • How to request a child in need assessment
  • How the assessment should be carried out
  • How children’s services decide whether help and services should be provided
  • Options if children’s services refuse to do an assessment or if services are not provided.

For information and advice about support for children with disabilities and children with special educational needs see our visit this page in our Why? section.

How can a kinship carer find out what help may be available to support a private family arrangement or private fostering arrangement from children’s services?

In England, all children’s services department in local authorities (councils) should have a family and friends care policy. The policy should:

Children’s services should publish information in leaflets and on their websites about the services on offer. This should include information about how to access the services. Kinship carers can ask children’s services for a copy of the policy and for any leaflets.

How to find a local policy

A copy of this policy can be requested from the local council. Or it may be on their website. Or, follow this link on our website to see policies that have been shared with us.

What type of support for kinship carers may be available in the local area from children’s services?

The type of support that children’s services should have available in the local area should include:

  • Help to obtain suitable accommodation. Housing and social care departments should work together to make sure kinship care housing needs are prioritised
  • Help with contact, including signposting to suitable contact centres and mediation services
  • Support groups for family and friends carers
  • Financial help. This includes one off help and ongoing support. Local children’s services departments should have their own measures for deciding which children in their areas are in need enough to get help and services. This should be set out in a local threshold document. See further information about threshold documents below
  • Information about the law and the powers and duties children’s services departments have.

This is set out in Chapter 5 of the Family and Friends Care: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities. This is guidance that should be followed unless there is good reason not to.

Will a child and their carer definitely receive help and services from children’s services?

It may be possible to get some support from children’s services. But this is only if the child being cared for is assessed to be a child in need. See the information about Child in need above.

What if children’s services won’t do a child in need assessment?

In this situation a kinship carer can:

Write a letter or email to the social worker asking:

  • Why they have decided the child is not a child in need
  • For an explanation to be given in writing and within 10 working days
  • For details of the local threshold document for getting help to be provided. This should set out when the local children’s services give help to children and families
  • Remind the social worker that financial help for children in kinship care should be a priority in their local threshold document (or ‘eligibility criteria’) – see the Family and friends care statutory guidance at paragraph 3.7.

If the explanation given is unclear, unreasonable or if no explanation is given then options include to:

  • Post a question on our Kinship Carers Forum and receive advice from one of Family Rights Group’s expert advisers
  • If needing further or more detailed advice, call Family Rights Group’s specialist legal and practice advice line on 0808 801 0366 (the advice line is open Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am to 3 pm excluding bank holidays)
  • Making a complaint to children’s services. See our Complaints page for advice about how to do this.

Before requesting a child in need assessment it is good idea to take a look at our Child in need page. This includes tips on making the request. It also has information about options where an assessment is not done or services are not offered

For advice about what do to if services are not available in your local area see our Common questions section back on the main Kinship carer page.

Further information and advice options:

  • See our Early help and Child in need pages
  • See our advice sheets for kinship carers on our Advice sheets page – this includes advice sheets on welfare benefits for kinship carers and the education system
  • See our Why? pages. These aim to provide information about some of the most common reasons children and families become involved with children’s services and the Family Court. Topics include domestic abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, adult mental ill-health. There is information and advice about children with disabilities, children with special educational needs. And information about child mental ill-health
  • Post a question on our Kinship Carers Forum and receive advice from one of Family Rights Group’s expert advisers
  • If needing further or more detailed advice, call Family Rights Group’s specialist legal and practice advice line on 0808 801 0366 (the advice line is open Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am to 3 pm excluding bank holidays)
  • Find a solicitor who is a specialist in children law. Or who has Children Law Accreditation. To find a solicitor, search using the ‘how to find a solicitor’ function on the Law Society website. See our Working with a solicitor guide on our Top tips and templates page for more information about finding and working with a solicitor.
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