Private fostering of non-citizen children in the UK has become a focus of child protection social work since the Laming report into the death of Victoria Climbié. This paper reports on a qualitative study that aimed to understand children’s experiences of private fostering and social work practice. The study involved interviews with social workers and privately fostered children, reviews of advice line calls to Children and Families Across Borders and a review of safeguarding reports in London Boroughs. We found that many children who present as ‘privately fostered’ have been in effect abandoned by their parents and are living with strangers. While the homes they live in may be safe, their insecure immigration status renders them vulnerable and in addition, if not regularised, will lead to complicated and stalled transitions to adulthood. The key findings of thisstudy are that children whose parents are not resident in the UK are treated as privately fostered but the underlying premise of private fostering legislation, which is that the parent retains meaningful responsibility for the child, is often not in place.