Plea for unknown Islington foster carers to be identified

MORE than 100 Islington children could be living with people they are not related to - and the council needs to identify them to make sure they are safe.

Social services are aware of 17 youngsters who are being privately fostered by people living in the borough, but they know the real figure is likely to be up to ten times higher.

Most are being looked after by kind-hearted friends, neighbours or distant relatives - but the worse case scenario is that Islington ends up with another Victoria Climbie on its hands.

Eight-year-old Victoria was abused and murdered by her guardians in Hackney after being brought to Britain from the Ivory Coast by her great aunt.

Matthew Ellis, manager of Islington Private Fostering Service, said: “Victoria Climbie was privately fostered and her case raised a lot of awareness about the situations many children are in.

“That is obviously the worst case scenario, but the reality is that most of these children are being looked after by well-meaning carers who have taken them in out of the goodness of their hearts.

“We work with teenagers who have fallen out with their families and gone to live with a school friend and their parents. There are children who are living with kind-hearted neighbours, people they have grown up with or even dinner ladies because their parents have died or gone to prison.

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“And there are other children who have arrived in this country and been left with someone who they call an aunt - but we know some cultures use that term much more widely than we do, perhaps for a distant relative or even just someone from the same tribe or village.

“They have been brought here for a better life, which is fine. But we need to know about it so we can make sure they are in school and registered with a GP, and things like that.”

Mr Ellis and his team can help with education, health, immigration and legal issues - and even offer financial support in some cases. And they insist they have no interest in taking the kids into care, as long as they are being well-looked after.

“We don’t go barging in removing children,” said Mr Ellis. “We are here to support the children and the carers.

“Some people just don’t like to discuss their business with outsiders, others think going to social services is a sign of weakness and some people might be worried we will take the kids away. But that’s not what we’re here for.

“Some people take on children out of the goodness of their hearts and six months on they are desperate for some help.”

But if the carers are determined not to alert social services, Mr Ellis hopes that someone else will. “In the first instance we would like the parent or carer to let us know what’s happening,” he explained. “But if someone is aware or suspects a private fostering situation might be happening in their school, church or in the house next door we would always appreciate the information.

“We need to get away from the idea that it is snitching to social services.”

- Anyone under the age of 16 who is being looked after full time for more than 28 consecutive days by an adult who is not their parent, step parent, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparent or legal guardian is being privately fostered. For more information call 020 7527 7400.