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Looking after someone else's child

If you are looking after someone else's child you may have a legal responsibility to inform us.

Private fostering 

This is the term used when a parent or guardian places a child under school leaving age in the care of someone else who is not a close relative or officially approved foster carer for a period of more than 28 days.

This could include:

  • Looking after a friend's child while they work away from home.
  • A neighbour having trouble coping with a new baby and asking you to look after it for a few weeks.
  • A friend from abroad asking you to let their child stay with you while they attend school here.

If you are doing this, it is private fostering and you have a legal responsibility to inform your local authority.

The local authority has a responsibility to secure the welfare of all privately fostered children so they need to carry out a number of checks.

The most important aspect of private fostering is the safety and welfare of the child and these reports and checks are there so that the social work services can provide you with any advice and support you might need.

There are other duties in relation to care and education and other aspects of the child’s welfare.

This information is intended as guidance – it is not an authoritative statement of the law. The courts ultimately decide how the law should be interpreted. So, if you think that you might be, or are soon to be, a private foster carer, or if you are a parent or guardian who intends to place your child in someone else’s care, please read this guidance carefully.

We can then help you ensure that the child is safe, happy and secure, no matter what their circumstances.

Responsibilities of parents or guardians

If you are a parent or guardian and you intend placing a child under school leaving age in someone else’s care, who is not a close relative or an approved foster carer, for more than 28 days, this is what you should do:

  • At least two weeks before the placement begins, you should contact us to let us know what you intend to do.
  • If the child has been placed in someone else’s care in an emergency, you should contact us within seven days of the emergency.
  • You should give us certain information in writing; this will include where the child will be placed, who will be responsible for their care and any other information that we require from you.

Responsibilities of carers

If you are planning to take someone else’s child into your care for more than 28 days who is under school leaving age and not closely related to you, this is what you should do:

  • At least two weeks before the placement begins, you should contact us in writing and explain what you intend to do.
  • If the child is placed with you in an emergency, you must let us know within seven days of the placement.
  • If you change address while caring for the child, you must inform the social work services in the area you are moving from and the area you are moving to.
  • If the child dies, or is removed from your care, you should inform us within 48 hours.

Frequently asked questions

If private fostering is a private arrangement, why is there legislation?

The legislation governing the care of children in private fostering arrangements is there to protect the welfare of the child. This is the most important aspect of any private fostering arrangement.

Local authorities have an obligation to secure the welfare of every privately fostered child under the Foster Children (Scotland) Act 1984.

What will you do when I contact you?

We are there to provide any advice or support you or the child might need while in your care.

We will require certain details, including who will be the main carer, where the child will be living, their health and school history, their interests, religion and dietary needs.

We will also need to be assured that the child is safe and well cared for and someone may come and talk to you about this.

What will happen if I fail to notify you?

Failure to notify the local social work service is an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment or both.

Remember, we are there to help and support you and to ensure the welfare of the child.

The care of children in private fostering arrangements is addressed in the following legislation which includes responsibilities for birth parents or guardians, private foster carers and local authorities: Foster Children (Scotland) Act 1984 and Foster Children (Private Fostering) (Scotland) Regulations 1985.

Page last updated:
07 Dec 2020

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