About 10,000 children are believed to be looked after by someone other than a parent or close relative, leading to fears their carers are not being vetted for suitability.
A legal duty on carers to notify councils of private fostering arrangements, imposed after the death of Victoria Climbié, has not been enforced in less than one in five cases.
It is feared a majority of young people being looked after by distant relatives or individuals with no family link at all could fall beneath the radar of social services, making future tragedies difficult to avert.
According to the British Association of Adoption & Fostering (BAAF), just 1,790 cases were formally recorded in 2007-08.
Chief executive David Holmes this week demanded an increase in the level of notifications to 5,000.
“If we don’t continue to raise our game about the notification system, the government has indicated that it would press the case for registration,” he told LGC. “And if somebody doesn’t come forward to notify, are they going to come forward to register?”
LGC understands some of the registration models that could be imposed would allow councils to reject proposed foster parents in favour of alternative carers. The current system merely allows for social workers to monitor arrangements.
Andrew Cozens, strategic advisor for children’s services at the Improvement & Development Agency, said that while private fostering cases went unmonitored problems ranging from simple poor parenting to child trafficking could be overlooked.
“The concern is there may be all sorts of goings on that may not be in children’s interests where these arrangements are not recorded,” he said.
A Department for Children, Schools & Families spokeswoman said the notifications system could be altered from November 2011.