The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that at 31 March this year 1,250 children - up from 980 last year - were reported as being privately fostered, where parents make arrangements with someone outside of their close family to look after their child for them for 28 days or longer. No-one knows the actual numbers of children being looked after in this way but estimates range from 7,000 to 10,000 children or more.
Both parents and private foster carers are supposed to notify their local authority that they are planning to or have already entered into private fostering arrangements, so that it can carry out checks to ensure the child's needs are being met. The Children Act 2004 and Private Fostering Regulations also require every local authority to promote public awareness about the need to notify such arrangements. The Act was introduced after the murder of eight year old Victoria Climbié, who was tortured and killed by her great aunt and the woman's boyfriend in 2001.
The British Association for Adoption & Fostering says some councils have been doing good work in recent years in this area but that notification levels are patchy across the country, leaving many - possibly thousands - of children vulnerable.
David Holmes, Chief Executive of British Association for Adoption & Fostering, says: "It is essential we raise awareness of private fostering. Some local authorities have done fantastic work in this area but we believe there may still be thousands of children who are not on the radar of authorities and are therefore vulnerable.
"It is vital we drive the message home that every single professional who comes into contact with children - including teachers, health visitors, and GPs - understands what private fostering is and informs the local authority when they believe a child is being privately fostered."