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Scale of “private fostering” is unknown, admits Islington safeguarding chief

There were 21 reported case of private fostering in Islington in past two years

08 March, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Chairman of Islington’s Safeguarding Children Board Alan Caton 

ISLINGTON’S safeguarding chief has warned that “no one truly knows” the numbers of children being looked after by people who are not their legal guardians or parents.

The practice known as private fostering sees parents send children to live with distant relatives or friends, often from abroad. There were 21

reported cases of children living under such arrangements in the borough in the past two years.

But Alan Caton, chairman of Islington’s Safeguarding Children Board, told the Town Hall’s children’s services scrutiny committee on Monday: “The local authority needs to be aware of these situations in order to make checks and make sure arrangements are satisfactory. The trouble is very few cases are known [to the council].”

Private fostering was first thrust into the spotlight almost two decades ago following the death of Victoria Climbié, killed by her great-aunt after being sent to Eng- land from the Ivory Coast by her mother.

A change in legislation following the eight-year- old’s death requires local authorities to be proactive in investigating private fostering arrangements.

Speaking to the Tribune after the meeting, Mr Caton, who has headed the board for six years, warned: “No one really knows the true numbers [of privately fostered children in Islington]. There must be lots of children.”

He stressed that “no one is saying private fostering is a bad thing”, but that some children in need could be hidden from local authorities and services.

Islington Council would not automatically take a privately fostered child away from a carer, he added. “We only take away children in extreme circumstances.”

He said the board works to “raise awareness” of the practice as “we need schools and frontline practitioners to identify these children”.

An Ofsted inspection of Islington’s children’s services in 2017 praised the safeguarding board’s work when it came to raising awareness of the practice.

It said children living with private fostering carers received a “good” service once the council was made aware of their presence.

Mr Caton spoke of the “real challenges” in safe- guarding children follow- ing cuts by central government, but added that he was “impressed with the positive way that all agencies approach safeguarding children”.

He also said the number of social workers in Islington had stayed the same in recent years.

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