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Nearly a quarter of communities could be failing children

Date:22 JAN 2009

New research out today reveals that nearly a quarter (22%) of people would miss a clear sign that a child may be at risk.

The ICM research was commissioned by the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) as part of their first ever national private fostering campaign - Somebody Else's Child.

Private fostering describes an arrangement lasting 28 days or more when a child is cared for by someone who isn't a close relative. To protect children, it is a legal requirement that parents and carers inform children's services at their local council of these arrangements, but most don't. Therefore the charity is asking the wider community to learn how to recognise the signs of private fostering arrangements. BAAF is concerned that people's lack of awareness might leave some children invisible in the community and more at risk of abuse.

Key survey findings reveal that 22% of people would do nothing if an unrelated child suddenly appeared living next door, and 7% would not act if an unrelated child next door disappeared.

In addition 4% said they would do nothing even if they were directly concerned for a child's safety, which equates to 1.6 million people in England and Wales.

The unexpected arrival and disappearance of children are warning signs of a private fostering arrangement. To ensure the safety and wellbeing of children, BAAF urges the community not to ignore these signals.

Further analysis reveals that the most common reason for people's reluctance to act was that they felt it was "none of their business". 15% of people said it was none of their business if an unrelated child suddenly appeared next door, and 4% felt it was none of their business if an unrelated child next door disappeared. Women are more likely to act than men - over a quarter (26%) of men said they would do nothing if an unrelated child next door appeared, compared to 19% of women. The age group least likely to act if an unrelated child started living next door were 25-34 year olds (32%). Meanwhile 18-24 year olds were the age group least likely to act if an unrelated child disappeared next door (13%).

In 2004 the Department of Health estimated that there were around 10,000 children being privately fostered in England and Wales. However BAAF's research indicates that there could be many more. Over 1 in 10 (11%) of 18-24 year olds said they had been privately fostered at some point in their childhoods.

David Holmes, Chief Executive of BAAF said: "Children in private fostering situations can be invisible and it is very difficult to estimate accurate numbers. What concerns us is that when asked, only 26% of people knew what private fostering was. We suspect that even fewer know that the local council needs to be informed of these arrangements.

"While most children in private fostering situations will be well cared for, some may not be. It is those children we are concerned about. Therefore if people suspect a child is being privately fostered in their local community, please do not to ignore it. Either talk to your neighbour or, if appropriate, call your local council and them."

According to the research, private fostering spans all regions and all social classes.

However, the types of children who are privately fostered can vary greatly - they include teenagers who have had a row with their mum and dad and have left home to live with friend's family, children whose parents are in prison, children sent to the UK from overseas for educational reasons, and trafficked young people who could be used as domestic slaves, or sold into prostitution.

BAAF has launched a new website which gives people vital information about private fostering, and how to take action. For more information visit www.somebodyelseschild.org.uk or call 0845 0560 120.