Kinship Care – An introduction and guide

  • FosterWiki
  • Author:FosterWiki
  • Published:December 2021
  • Country: United Kingdom

Kinship Care

An introduction and guide to kinship care

An introduction and guide to kinship care connected care and family & friends care

1. Introduction to Kinship Care

Kinship care is when a child lives full-time or most of the time with a relative or friend who isn’t their parent, this is usually because their parents aren’t able to care for them.

The relative or friend is called a ‘kinship carer’. It is estimated that approximately half of the kinship carers are grandparents, many others are aunts, uncles, siblings, family friends and neighbours.

2. Why are children in kinship care and what are the benefits?

Children can be in kinship care for many reasons. It is usually as their parents are unable to care for them, there are many reasons why, but amongst those are parental drug or alcohol misuse, bereaved, imprisonment, parental neglect, abuse or ill health.

There are clear benefits to children if they’re kept within their family network.
They can benefit from increased placement stability compared to children in local authority care and can maintain family relationships.
Children who go to live with kinship carers have had a very difficult start in life, and their behaviour is often greatly affected by past experiences. Almost half of the children in kinship care have some kind of special needs, most common emotional and behavioural difficulties.

3. The principles of kinship care

  • The best interests, welfare and needs of the child must be paramount and the child’s preferences should be taken into account.
  • Kinship carers are recognised for the contribution they make to the care of children and young people unable, for whatever reason, to live with their parents.
  • The needs of children looked after by kinship carers are recognised as being, in many situations, similar to those of children looked after by unrelated foster carers: many have experienced disruption and difficulties in their lives and require additional support to meet their needs, including safely maintaining relationships with birth family members.
  • Outcomes for children living in kinship care are best promoted by supporting the carers with their own support needs, as many kinship carers assume care of children at the expense of their own wellbeing in terms of health, financial security, life plans etc.

Any intervention in the lives of children and their families should be conducted in a way that respects Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights regarding privacy and family life in line with relevant legislation and guidance

  • When a child cannot live with their parents and requires alternative care, care within the wider family or others with a prior connection to the child will be the first option for the child, unless there are clear reasons why this would not be in the child’s best interests.
  • Where a suitable kinship care option is not available to a child, the care plan assessed as most likely to meet that child’s current and likely future needs throughout their childhood and beyond should be pursued.
  • Where children cannot live with kinship carers, contact with family members and others important to the child should be supported and promoted where it is in the child’s interests to do so, taking into account their views.

4. The legislation

5. The different types of Kinship Care

  • Many people can be kinship carers. It is also sometimes called “family and friends” or “connected care”.
  • Those people can be grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, family friends or neighbours.
  • There are lots of different types of kinship care, ranging from living in an informal arrangement made by their parents or being “looked after” by the local authority and placed with kinship foster carers, child arrangement orders or special guardianship orders (SGO). Kinship carers are also often referred to as ‘family and friends carers’ or ‘connected people’.
  • A Kinship Carer is anyone who is looking after another person’s child on a full-time basis.

You can become a kinship carer in different ways, some formal and others informal, and this can affect your rights, the responsibilities you have and the type of support you might be entitled to.

  • Kinship foster care is when a friend or family member becomes an official foster carer for a child. This is different to other forms of kinship care as the child is then considered ‘looked after, and you won’t have parental responsibility.
  • There are two main ways in which a child can become “looked after” by the local authority, this is either made with their parent’s agreement or through a care order made by the court.
  • When a child is “looked after” by the local authority they decide on the most appropriate place for the child to live. The Local authority is required to give preference to placing the child with a relative, friend or any other person that is connected to the child or family, but only if it is in the best interests of the child, and only if that person is assessed and approved as a foster care. The other option for the LA is with foster carers the child doesn’t know, or in some cases in residential care.
  • If you are regarded by the local authority as an ‘informal’ Kinship carer and are not assessed as a foster carer this could have major implications on your entitlement to financial and practical support and the local authority may not provide further support to the child.
  • If a child is placed with a Kinship carer in an emergency the local authority can assess you quickly as a temporary foster carer, this temporary approval lasts for between 16-24 weeks depending on circumstances and allow time for a full assessment to be completed.
  • Foster carers never have parental responsibility for the child they are looking after. The parental responsibility (PR) is shared in different degrees between the local authority and the birth parents depending on the circumstances they are placed with you and court orders.
  • The local authority must pay Kinship foster carers the same rate of allowance as they pay other foster carers. Many local authorities have a system of levels and skills fees for foster carers, if they do they must not discriminate against kinship foster carers and treat them the same as their other foster carers.
  • If the kinship foster placement becomes long term and there are no plans for the child to return to their parents, the local authority can sometimes try to get the carer to apply for or a Child Arrangements Order. Kinship carers may feel this is a positive step, however, they should not be pressurised into anything and seriously consider and research the implications specifically regarding financial and other support.

Special Guardianship Order

A Special Guardianship Order (often known as an SGO) is a legal order where the court appoints the carer as ‘Special Guardian’ until they turn 18. The Special Guardian then shares parental responsibility (PR) for the child with the parents and can make nearly all the major decisions about the child without having to consult them.
<!– See FosterWiki’s page on SGO (Under construction) –>

Child Arrangements Order (formerly Residence Orders)

The person named in a Child Arrangements Order shares parental responsibility for the child with the parents and can make the most important decisions on behalf of the child without needing the permission of the parents. It lasts until the child turns 18 unless the court states otherwise.

Informal arrangements

Informal kinship care is where you are looking after a child who is closely related to you but you do not have parental responsibility for them and they are not “looked after” by the local authority.

6. Assessment and approval

  • Kinship carers, are approved by the local authority as foster carers and are assessed in relation to their suitability to care specifically for the child they are caring for, and this should be reflected in the terms of their approval.
  • Different local authorities sometimes have different names for their Kinship carers, you may hear them called ‘friends and family’ carers or ‘connected care’.
  • Kinship carer fostering assessments should follow the two-stage process outlined in the Assessment and Approval of foster carers.
  • There is additional guidance regarding assessment and approval of family and friends foster carers, including how assessments address some of the issues requiring specific consideration. These are set out in Chapter 5 of the Family and Friends Care statutory guidance. Link to guidance
  • Once approved, whether temporarily under Regulation 24 or following assessment and approval under the fostering regulations, family and friends foster carers are local authority foster carers and the legislation, regulations and guidance apply to them in the same way as for all foster carers. Section 30 of the National Minimum Standards sets out how the fostering services deliver the support, training and development Kinship/Family & Friends carers require.

Changes to Approval Status

Some Kinship/family and friends approved foster carers go on to apply for special guardianship orders for the children they are caring for. This will require an assessment to be prepared for the courts.

The fostering assessment should be updated and additional information regarding special guardianship included without the need to start the approval process again. The carers should resign as foster carers for the child once a special guardianship order has been made. An assessment of their support needs must be completed if requested, and many will require a level of financial, practical and/or emotional support.

7. Financial support and assistance

As soon as the Local Authority place the child/children with you they should begin assessing you as a foster carer and pay a fostering allowance.

Fostering allowances should be paid regardless of your income. Allowances are usually paid in age-related increments, with a minimum weekly allowance set by the government; the older
the child, the bigger the allowance, they can also include skills fees depending on the level of training/education/experience/qualifications.

Please see FosterWiki’s ‘Money Matters’ page

8. Allegations and Standards of Care concerns

Allegations and standards of care complaints can be made against kinship carers just like other mainstream foster carers.

If concerns about a foster carer’s standards of care arise, support should be offered to address the issues identified. The social worker can, as with any other placement, review the care plan and it may be decided that the placement is no longer the most appropriate way of meeting the child’s needs.

In such circumstances, the removal of the child does not automatically end the family and friend’s carer’s registration as a foster carer and the fostering regulations require that they either resign or a review recommending the termination of their approval is completed.

Having an allegation made against you is one of the most stressful and difficult things that can happen to any carer. Make sure you are not only knowledgeable of the process but check out FosterWiki’s top tips in allegations, the members’ area where there is a wealth of knowledge and information on allegations and standards of care proceedings.

It is also helpful, as kinship foster carers have to abide by the same standards, regulations and statutory requirements as other foster carers, to understand your role as a foster carer and the role and responsibilities of the team around the child. All this can be found in FosterWiki’s members’ area in our foster carer focused pages “Your role as a professional”. The same applies to fostering payments, you will need to be registered as self-employed and do tax returns, so take a look at “The business side of self-employment”.

9. Family and friends carers who want to foster other children

Some family and friends foster carers would not have chosen to foster but, having fostered a relative, want to foster other children that are not related to them. This is possible and often welcomed as the UK is so short of foster carers, however, the impact on the relative child will need to be carefully considered if they are still fostered or living as a member of the household.

In order to change their fostering approval to extend to children who are not related to them, a thorough review would need to be conducted which considers not only the skills and experience that they have as kinship carers but also their abilities to care for other unknown children. This is because the original assessment and approval process only considered their abilities and suitability only in relation to the specific child who is related to them.

It is not a new or reassessment but it is a robust and thorough review. The new review must consider the ongoing suitability of their terms of approval, with a view to deciding whether to recommend these be changed to include unrelated children.

10. Mainstream foster carers who want to foster a relative

Foster carers can often find that a child-related or known to them requires support and they may be approached or want to foster that child. This has implications for their fostering and each individual situation will be different and require looking into. If the foster carer is already an approved local authority carer then they do not need the temporary approval under Regulation 24.

The local authority will hold a review to consider whether the foster carer’s approval needs changing and if they are suitable for the child. This will also include consideration and the possibility of placing alongside any existing placements. Children can be placed in an emergency but this should only be for 6 days. The Agency Decision Maker (ADM) can change the foster carer’s approval with immediate effect following a review.

If the carer is approved by an independent agency or a local authority that is not the same as the local authority need to place the child, they cannot be temporarily approved under Regulation 24 since foster carers can only foster for one service. The local authority wanting to place the child will need to liaise with the carer and their fostering service to agree on the best way to achieve the desired outcomes for each child.

This may involve cooperation to change the terms of approval as above allowing the local authority to place the child in a placement managed by the current service, or placing the child elsewhere whilst longer-term plans (that may involve special guardianship) are explored.

In some situations, the court may make an assessment order that directs the child to live with the carers. In this scenario, the child is not placed in a foster placement but becomes a member of the fostering household, triggering the need for a foster carer review. Although the carers are not acting as foster carers for that child, they may require financial and/or other support similar to that given to foster carers.

11. Kinship survey 2021

An annual survey exploring the realities of kinship carers across England and Wales – November 8th 2021 Kinship’s State of the Nation Survey is an annual survey that explores what life is like for kinship carers in England and Wales. It enables the charity and wider sector to identify and respond to emerging issues, and to track issues over time. The survey received 1,651 responses from kinship carers caring for 2,538 children in England and Wales. This represents the highest number of responses ever for Kinship’s annual survey. Here are the key findings:

Kinship care provides permanence:

  • 96% of kinship carers believed the children would be living with them permanently.
  • 81% of carers were already planning to care for the children into adulthood and only 2% did not think the children would remain with them once they reached 18.

Most carers did not consider respite to be the children being cared for by other people. Instead, they regarded it as a chance to catch up on daily tasks while their children were at school, or to take a family holiday together.

Children in kinship care often have a high level of needs:
Children in kinship care are often vulnerable.

    • 62% of carers believed that their children had long-term physical and mental health needs.
    • 40% of kinship carers reported their children displayed risk-taking behaviour including self-harming and drug and alcohol misuse.
    • 36% of children in kinship care had special educational needs – which is three times the national average of 12%.

Child-on-carer violence continues to be a significant issue, which 26% of carers reported experiencing over the past year. Kinship carers are older than other groups raising children, and over one-third of kinship carers have support needs of their own.

The majority of kinship carers who responded to the survey were older, with 65% ranging in age from 55 to 85. Kinship carers were primarily grandparents, making them an older group than the majority of parents raising children. 39% of carers reported they had additional needs that they felt required more support.

Covid-19 has put kinship families under additional strain:
The impact of Covid-19 and the related lockdown restrictions continued to put kinship families under additional strain.

      • 63% of kinship carers stated that the lockdown restrictions had a negative impact on their physical and mental wellbeing.
      • 64% of carers reported that the Covid-19 restrictions had a negative impact on their children’s physical and mental wellbeing.
      • 54% of carers strongly agreed or agreed that reducing lockdown restrictions would improve their overall well-being.

Kinship families are not getting the support they need A child’s formal diagnosis can be a gateway to receiving support.

Although 62% of carers stated they believed their children had additional physical and mental health needs, only 33% of children had received a formal diagnosis. Parenting children in kinship care can be difficult due to their additional needs, however, 70% of carers did not receive the support they felt they needed from their local authorities. Contact between children in kinship care and their parents is often identified as an area where kinship carers need support. Despite this, only 11% of carers were receiving support from their local authorities to help with contact and a further 23% wanted to receive support but did not receive it. 24% of kinship carers reported they never got a break from caring for the children.

Schools are an important source of support for kinship families:
Schools could be an important source of support for kinship carers and their children.

      • 52% of carers said that their children receive additional support at school.
      • 47% of carers said that their children’s schools met their children’s needs either extremely well or quite well.

Post- 18 support is almost non-existent for kinship families:

      • Only 3% of carers had been offered post-18 support.

Read the results of previous annual surveys of kinship carers here:

12. Information, Help and Support

What support is available for kinship carers?

Help and support created for foster carers, by foster carers, we are the experts by experience. We have the first foster carers knowledge bank.

Please find our help and support page here.

Access both the open pages and members area. Both are free to access and footprint-free. The member’s area gives you privileged confidential access to FosterWiki’s experts by experience for advice and guidance. You will also find short courses and guides from the foster carer’s perspective, top tips, allegation help, templates, and the ability to add to FosterWiki. With more content being uploaded regularly.

Please let us know what information or advice pages you would find useful and we will put them in place.

13. Links

Care Kinship Kinship care

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