Here are some brief summaries of the various legal definitions under which the child might be living with you. A fuller explanation of the terms below can be found on Child Law Advice.
If you are a grandparent, aunt, uncle or sibling (this includes through birth or marriage ie a step-parent) and the child’s parents have asked you to look after their child, children’s services do not need to be involved unless there are concerns about the child’s safety or welfare. The parents retain full parental responsibility for the child and should make sure they have everything they need. This will likely involve them needing to pay you for living costs associated with the child living with you, as well as special items they require eg school uniform, equipment for hobbies.
If you are not a grandparent, aunt, uncle, sibling or step-parent and the child’s parents have asked you to look after their child for more than 28 days, this is classed as a private fostering arrangement. The parents retain full parental responsibility for the child and should make sure they have everything they need. The private foster carer does not gain any parental responsibility but can act in loco parentis. This means they can take immediate steps to keep a child safe and well.
By law, anyone involved in a private fostering arrangement must inform children’s services six weeks before the child comes to live with you, as children’s services have a legal duty to assess this arrangement. If the six weeks have elapsed, children’s services should be notified as soon as possible. Any professionals (this includes GPs and schools) should inform children’s services of private fostering arrangements as soon as they become aware of them.
Examples of private fostering include:
What is not private fostering?
What happens after you have told us about the arrangement?
Your private fostering arrangement may be a good option for everyone concerned. We will offer support and will not interfere unnecessarily, however we have a legal duty to work with the parents and private foster carer to check and assess how suitable the arrangements are. This involves:
Unlike regular fostering there is no financial support available from the County Council, however financial arrangements may be made between the private foster carer and the child’s parents. The private foster carer can also claim child benefit and child tax credits for the child.
This arrangement is considered to be a private fostering arrangement until either:
You can notify Norfolk children’s services of a private fostering arrangement by emailing email@example.com or calling us on 0344 800 8020.
If children’s services have asked you to look after the child in your care, the child will be considered to be a looked after child and you must be approved as a foster carer. Ideally all changes in children’s living arrangements are made in a planned way, however in practice this is not always possible. Therefore you might have been asked to look after the children in your care at short notice or in an emergency situation. By law the child is still considered to be a looked after child and you need to be approved as a foster carer. Therefore we grant you temporary approval whilst we make long term plans for the child’s care and undertake any further assessments. Temporary approval can last up to 16 weeks, and in extenuating circumstances be extended for a further eight weeks. After that time different living arrangements or a different legal status should have been obtained for the child. As a temporarily approved foster carer, you have delegated authority for the child in your care.
If children’s services or a judge decide that the child should remain a looked after child and stay in your care, this will require you being granted full approval as a foster carer. This means a full assessment will have been undertaken of you and you will attend a panel who make a recommendation as to whether you should be approved. The final decision rests with the agency decision maker. Parents may have consented for this (often referred to as “section 20 consent”) or a judge may have granted a Care Order. LAC reviews will continue until the child turns 18. You and the child will each continue to have a social worker. You are referred to as a kinship foster carer or a connected person foster carer because you had an existing relationship with the child before they came to live with you. Mainstream foster carers have to be assessed to care for any child, whereas you will only be assessed and approved for the specific child in your care. You will be assessed to the same level as any foster carer, but your existing relationship with the child will be taken into account when deciding on the best place for the child. As a (kinship) foster carer you have delegated authority for the child in your care.
Delegated authority gives foster carers the ability to make day to day decisions about the child without the need to check every decision with children’s services. Day to day decisions are considered to be things such as the child attending a school trip, going round a friend’s house for dinner, sleepovers, trying new hobbies, having a haircut or going for a routine medical appointment. Matters not considered to be day to day decisions include planned, major medical operations, changing the child’s name, changing the child’s religion, or going abroad for more than three weeks. Every looked after child has a care plan which should clearly specify which things you can make decisions about and which things you cannot. There may be specific stipulations for the child in your care. You should be provided with the child’s care plan before the child comes into your care or as soon as possible thereafter.
Even though you may have delegated authority, all decisions made about the child should be in their best interests, in light of the views of the child, and in conjunction with the birth parents where possible.
If you are granted special guardianship of the child in your care, this will last until the child is 18 years old. Parents retain their parental responsibility, but you also gain parental responsibility. You are expected to continue to seek the parents’ and child’s views to inform your decision making. Where the parents’ and your opinion conflicts, your parental responsibility will over rule theirs. There are however a few things you cannot decide: changing the child’s name; living abroad for more than three months; consenting to the child being adopted.
The child will not be considered a looked after child and neither will of you will have a social worker.
This is mainly used in private law proceedings, but can be used in child protection matters too. A child arrangements order settles specific matters for the child such as what name they will be known as, where they will live, what contact they will have with their parents and siblings, where they will go to school, whether they can have a specific operation or medical care, or any other matter in contention.
The child will not be considered a looked after child, and neither will of you will have a social worker. The child arrangements order will clarify if anyone gains parental responsibility by the granting of the order.
It may be considered in the child’s best interests to be adopted by you. In such a situation you would gain full legal status as the child’s parent, including full parental responsibility. The birth parents would lose their parental responsibility. You and the child may be eligible for post-adoption support from children’s services. Visit Adoption if you think this applies to you.