Private fostering case study

A Childrens Social work team were made aware of 3 minors, aged 15, 9 and 6. The children were originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo living with a woman, described as their guardian, also originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and her two children in a local authority property.

The guardian and her two children had indefinite leave to remain in the UK. Her two children attended their local primary and secondary schools.

The Children’s team were made aware of the 3 minors by a GP for one of the guardian’s own children. The GP was made aware of one of the minors, a 15 year old girl as she would often accompany the children to the GPs surgery. On one occasion the receptionist tried to talk to the girl. Upon questioning she noted that she spoke very little English despite having appeared to have lived in the UK for a prolonged period. The girl also appeared anxious and fearful when questioned and the receptionist noted that she was dressed inappropriately for the time of the year. The GP contacted the children team with their concerns.

Response to the referral

Social workers conducted an unannounced visit to the home address of the carer (described by the GP as a guardian). During the visit they were able to establish that there were 3 children who had been brought from the Democratic Republic of Congo into the UK and they had been living in the property for over a year. The carer informed the social workers that she was the children’s paternal aunt and that she had brought the children into the UK so that they could attend school as a favour to her brother who was struggling to care for them after his wife passed away. She stated that all three had submitted applications for leave to remain in the UK and that she was waiting for the outcome of their applications. She also confirmed that she was also in the process of applying for a larger home from the local authority as the property she had was too small for them to live in.

The carer confirmed that despite the children being in the country for over a year, none of them were attending school although all 3 children were registered with the local GP. She stated that she had not enrolled the children in school as she was waiting for their ‘papers’ from the Home Office. In response to questions about the children’s activities, the carer stated that as they were not in school all 3 children helped out in the house and that the older child also took her own children to and from school and to appointments with the GP.

The social worker was unable to speak to the 3 children during the visit as an interpreter was not present and they spoke very limited English.

The social worker contacted UKVI (UK visas and immigration) to try and obtain verification of the children’s status. A search conducted on the identities of the children as stated by the carer did not reveal any matching records. Therefore contrary to the carer’s statements, the children did not have existing applications for leave to remain, neither was there any information on how they had been brought into the county.

A search on the carer’s name and address confirmed her leave to remain in the UK. It also confirmed that she had made several attempts to sponsor visit visa for different children from the DRC, however, the visas had been refused. An information request was submitted to the Child Benefit and Tax Credits office. They confirmed that the carer was in receipt of both child benefit and tax credits for all 3 children and that she had provided information which appeared to confirm that they all had valid leave to remain in the UK.

The absence of information as to how the 3 children came to be in the UK coupled with concerns regarding their relationship to their carer, the evidence that she had submitted multiple visa applications for other children, the fact that the children were not in school and that the carer had fraudulently claimed benefits for them resulted in the 3 children being entered into the NRM (the National Referral Mechanism is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate protection and support).

The children were all given positive first trafficking assessments – the Reasonable Grounds assessment.

Unfortunately, when the child social workers returned to the property to follow up on their investigations the 3 children were no longer living there. The police were called and the guardian claimed that she had returned the children to their brother in the DRC. In response to questions about their journey she stated that she had first sent the children to France to stay with her sister who arranged their return to the DRC.

The information given by the guardian was passed to the Foreign Office who completed their own checks. On the information provided they were able to confirm the identities of the 2 younger children. They were also able to confirm that the two children had been returned to their father in the DRC, and that the guardian in the UK was not related to the children’s father as first claimed. They were unable to trace either the whereabouts or identity of the oldest child and she was reported to the police in the UK as a missing person.

The trafficking assessments in these cases were positive: Trafficking for the purpose of benefit fraud and potentially labour exploitation.

If you think a child might be privately fostered call the first response team on 0300 111 8007 then select option 1, then 4, then 3.