Last week was private fostering week, but I didn't realise until now. It's an issue I've raised in Parliament in the past, during Bill Committee, and then again during my Westminster Hall debate on the children of prisoners, and I also discussed it with Action for Prisoners Families when I met them last week. And then I spotted the Bristol City Council advert on the bus-shelter in Victoria Street yesterday.
It's an important, overlooked issue. What happens when a parent is ill, or goes to prison, or for some other reason is no longer around to be a parent? How can we be sure that the person into whose care a child is temporarily entrusted is suitable or able to look after that child? And what can be done to support these temporary foster carers, for example, in accessing child benefit or tax credits, or acquiring parental authority to deal with schools or doctors, or simply in helping them deal with an unexpected and unfamiliar situation? This is especially true re grandparents who suddenly find themselves looking after grandchildren - and sometimes very upset, very angry, very damaged grandchildren - on a long-term basis.
But I'm also concerned about situations where, for example, a drug-addict mother gets given a prison sentence and the child is left with her addict friends. OK, the drug addict might not have been the best mother, but this scenario exposes the child to even more danger. Say the drug addict mother was also someone who worked the streets, and her drug addict boyfriend was, if not her pimp, at least reliant on her earnings... and she's got a 12 or 13 year old daughter? That's an extreme example, but I think it's only right that someone should be tasked with checking the welfare - and the whereabouts - of the child in such situations.