Family relationships can be complicated – sometimes when parents are unable to provide adequate care for their children, family members or friends will step in to help.
These arrangements, called kinship care or family and friends care, are often informal – but many also involve varying degrees of state involvement or oversight. While they aren’t classified as foster care placements, which typically involve a child being cared for by an approved unrelated/unknown foster parent, there are guidelines to how these arrangements work.
What happens when a child is in kinship care?
Kinship foster care sees a child living with a relative or friend who isn’t their parent. Often, these relatives or friends will step in when parents are unable to cope with the responsibility of caring for their child – sometimes due to mental health issues, drug or alcohol problems, or unexpected life circumstances like bereavement.
There are many types of care that involve friends or family, including:
• Informal kinship care
When a family member or friend looks after a child who can’t be cared for by the birth parents, not at the request of the local council.
• Formal kinship care
When a family member or friend looks after a child who can’t be cared for by the birth parents at the request of the local council. In these arrangements, the local authority takes on financial and parental responsibility for the child.
• Private fostering
If the carer is not a close relative of the child (such as a grandparent, sibling, aunt or uncle, or step-parent) and the child is under 16, then the arrangement is called private fostering. There is no financial support provided by the local authority.
• Child arrangements order / special guardianship order
Child arrangements orders are legal orders where the court decides where a child will live, while special guardianship orders are legal orders where the court appoints a carer as ‘Special Guardian’ for a child until they turn 18. The local authority will sometimes pay an allowance to these types of carers.
Help for kinship carers
In most cases, it is the local council who provides support in the case of kinship care arrangements.
Depending on the formality of the arrangement, support may include:
• Child benefits
• Child tax credits
• Help caring for a disabled child
• Help for special education needs
• Fostering allowances for formal kinship care
• Fostering allowances for special guardians
Learn more about kinship care and access resources and support at:
• Grandparents Plus: Around half of kinship carers are grandparents, but this non-profit offers advice and support for all kinship carers.
• The Family Rights Group: This charity works with parents and relatives with children in need.
• Buttle UK: Provides grants for parents in need, including carers.
• Coram Children’s Legal Centre: Provides free legal advice as part of their mission to promote and protect children’s rights.
At Compass Fostering, we help members of the community train to become confident foster carers for children in need. If you’d like to find out more about what we do, please get in touch.