Hundreds of thousands of children may have been privately fostered in secret, according to new research by the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF).
One in 10 children surveyed claimed to have been looked after by someone other than a parent or close relative for at least four consecutive weeks, yet only a tiny fraction were registered with local authorities.
BAAF estimates that up to one million “invisible” children could have spent weeks — or even years — living with family friends, neighbours, distant relatives or unregulated nannies without the knowledge of child protection experts.
“Invisible” children are at greater risk of being abused, neglected or forced into slavery or prostitution, it warns.
Six per cent of those affected said they weren't well-looked after by private foster carers.
The research will launch the Somebody Else's Child campaign, which aims to increase awareness about what constitutes private fostering.
Private fostering covers any situation where an unofficial arrangement is made for a child to be looked after by someone other than a parent, step-parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent or sibling for more than 28 days. It can also include teenagers who move in with a friend's family because of arguments at home and children who have been sent from overseas for education or health needs.