SCIE Position paper 1: Effectiveness of childminding registration and its implications for private fostering
By Lisa Bostock.
Published: January 2003
The following recommendations are based on the knowledge review conducted by SCIE on the effectiveness of childminding registration and its implications for private fostering. The review is part of a wider SCIE work programme that has been commissioned by the Department of Health (DH), England and National Assembly for Wales (NAW) to examine effective services for children and families. The knowledge review includes:
- literature review of registration of childminding and its impact on quality of childcare, drawing on UK and overseas research;
- literature review of private fostering, including current legislation, DH/NAW awareness campaign, experiences of private foster carers, professionals and former foster children;
- SCIE consultations with stakeholders who have direct contact with private foster children, their families and private foster carers, including former private foster children, community workers, social workers, health visitors and researchers;
- review of recommendations by SCIE board members, including Terry Philpot, one of the UK’s leading experts on private fostering.
Registration as baseline safeguard
- It is effective to draw the parallel between parents’ use of childminding services and private fostering because both arrangements are based on parental choice. This means that both types of childcare are essentially private arrangements between parents and providers, who usually require payment in exchange for their services.
- Childminding registration offers a baseline safeguard to parents wishing to choose this type of substitute care for their children. Registering private foster carers would provide a pool of approved providers from whom parents could select a suitable person to look after their child(ren)’s needs. Given the continuous nature of care provided by private foster carers, it is important that private foster children and their parents are afforded these basic safeguards.
- A large proportion of private fostering arrangements cross divisions of religion, race and culture. A register of private foster carers represents a proactive approach to the protection of potentially vulnerable children, many of whom are black and minority ethnic children placed with white, private foster carers and who may be at risk of losing touch with their ethnic, cultural and geographical identities.
Registration, professionalisation and support
- Childminders have welcomed the professionalisation, higher status, training and support that have accompanied registration. There is evidence to suggest that those who regard themselves as private foster carers value the support and advice offered by local authority workers.
- The National Childminding Association of England and Wales (NCMA) promotes the professional interests of registered childminders. The NCMA endorses registration in order that children, families and communities can benefit from the best in childcare and education.
- Registration as a childminder provides an official stamp of approval. Registered childminders distinguish their care from that offered by unregistered childminders, whom they consider providing poor quality of care. Professionalisation may attract private foster carers and offer them an improved status and sense that they are quality care providers.
- Registered childminders are more likely to report unregistered childminders, who are viewed as potentially bringing the profession into disrepute. Further work needs to be undertaken to assess whether registered private foster carers will be more inclined to uncover 'hidden’ private fostering in order to protect their own professional status.
- However, lack of support at local authority level has contributed to a decline in registered childminders. In order to attract and retain good quality private foster carers, it will be important to promote a supportive and efficient system of registration for private fostering.
- The responsibility for registration and inspection of childminders now rests with the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED). The impact on childminding registration of the decision to separate support from the inspection role of OFSTED regulatory officers is not yet known.
- A local authority rather than national system of registration for private fostering should be considered. Local authorities’ experience of fostering means that they are well placed to provide a registration system that is based on supervision, support and safeguarding the welfare of children living away from home. Registration systems would be subject to inspection by the National Care Standards Commission (NCSC).
- A duty should be placed on local authority workers, including teachers, and on GPs and health visitors to notify social services or other registration body when they suspect a child is being privately fostered.
- This duty could be supported through the development of specialist teams drawn from different agencies that have contact with private foster children.
Assessments and standards
- Registration of private fosterers should allow for a private foster carer to be registered as generally available or alternatively to be approved for a specific child already known to them, in the same way that family and friends foster carers can be approved to foster a specific child. This system reflects frameworks in place for the assessment of local authority foster carers. Childminders, on the other hand, are assessed for their general ability to care for children.
- Assessment of private foster carers should be measured against a set of standards. In order to reach a clear decision on what constitute the national standards for private foster care, a combination of the national standards for childminders and for foster care should be considered.
- There is a suggestion that private foster carers must meet a minimum standard that acts as a baseline safeguard. The minimum standard could be combined with an aspirational standard that focuses specifically on awareness of religion, race and culture.
Legal definition and caveats for registration
- Unlike childminding, private foster children remain in the continuous care of their foster care provider. The current legal definition of private foster care - continuous care by a non-relative lasting longer than 28 days - covers a complex range of private fostering arrangements.
- There is a lack of reliable data on the numbers of private foster care arrangements. Lack of data undermines planning mechanisms within children’s services to safeguard privately fostered children. Childminding registration, on the other hand, has afforded the opportunity to collect detailed information on both numbers of registered childminders and how many children are placed in their care.
- There is, however, information on the different categories of children covered under current legal definitions of private fostering. Unlike childminding, the variety of social situations covered by official definitions of private foster care means that registration may not offer the most effective safeguard for children in all or some of the categories identified below.
- Private fostering arrangements can be divided into two groups of children. First, there are children whose parents and private foster carers are more likely to identify themselves as entering into or providing private fostering arrangements. Current research evidence limits understanding of this group to West African birth-parents who primarily place their children in the care of white, private foster carers.
- The current legal definition of private
fostering captures a second group of children
who are living in a range of situations that
are not necessarily socially understood as
private fostering. There is almost no research
evidence on the experiences of this
second group of children, who include:
- children attending language schools;
- children who are brought into the country as domestic workers;
- children arriving as cultural exchange students;
- children of Chinese parents who work long hours;
- unaccompanied asylum-seeking children;
- children whose parents are deported;
- children whose parents are in hospital, drugs rehabilitation or prison;
- teenagers who board out due to breakdowns in family relations.
- A registration system based on proportionality should consider tightening the definition of private foster care and/or identifying which private fostering arrangements would benefit most effectively from registration.