Kinship care: need, support and
legal status
Findings from a new research study
The research study
Stage 1 Interviews with carers in 95 households (E & W)
Recruited through FRG Advice Line (64) & other organisations
involved with kinship carers (31). All had been involved w C.Services
 23% foster placements; 25% residence order/interim residence
order; 27% special guardianship; 21% informal care/private fostering
 37 kinship foster placement at some point, not necessarily fully
 88 continuing placements of at least one kinship child
Stage 2 On-line survey of 493 kinship carers
Stage 3 Interviews149 professionals + on-line survey of 100
158 Children’s Services social workers and managers
Judges, lawyers, children’s guardians, ISWs, FGC coordinators
Challenging children
92% with kin because of substance abuse (60%); abuse or neglect (59%);
parental mental illness (28%); or domestic violence (27%).
Most had been exposed to multiple adversities likely to compromise their
future well-being.
2 in 3 had been subject to a child protection plan
56% of children presented significant levels of difficulty at placement
1 in 3 were still deemed ‘challenging’ at the point interviews were
conducted. Only a third were entirely problem free.
They have got significant needs, the children are not actually that
different from the children who are looked after. They've got that
history. They need proper support. (Kinship social worker)
My way of seeing it is that they are children in need by the fact of
what they will have experienced. (Kinship carers) are getting
children who are really damaged and they're coming with
emotional baggage. Even though they're in a kinship placement
those experience can kick back and it can be manifested later on
or sometime down the line, to be quite frank about it. (Front-line
social worker)
High levels of unmet need; stressed carers
95% of carers identified unmet needs for support for themselves or the
Few said they had ever had a discussion with Children’s Services about
the support they needed
72% rated the support from Children’s Services as poor or very poor. 9%
good or excellent. Mean rating 1.7 out of 5.
65% raised stress levels (2x general population). Not affected by length of
60% felt isolated or unsupported
Support not correlated with needs of children or carers
Statutory Guidance on Family and Friends Care
Emphasises that children in kinship care & their carers should
receive support, irrespective of the legal status of the arrangement
Requires local authorities to produce & publish a policy on family
& friends care
Specifies the content of the policy
Stipulates that each LA must appoint a senior manager with
responsibility for the operation of the policy & ensuring staff
competent in this area of work.
Needs-based support? Professional views
53% of professionals surveyed identified gaps in service provision
Only 31% of Children’s Services staff thought their authority was
‘completely’ meeting the requirement in statutory guidance that
support should be needs-based. 16% said their LA had ‘a long
way to go’ or was ‘nowhere near’.
Only 20% of Children’s Services staff thought their LA was
‘completely meeting the requirement that support should not be
dependent on legal status. 21% said their LA had ‘ a long way to
go’ or was ‘nowhere near’.
What does influence support?
The actions of the carer. One of the key messages carers wanted
to convey to others was that to get support carers had to be
knowledgeable, confident, articulate, assertive and persistent.
The advocacy or intervention of others - independent advice
agency; lawyer; children’s guardian; judge; MP; local paper.
The local authority involved
The legal status of the arrangement.
The hierarchy of support
Kinship foster care
Special guardianship
Residence orders
Informal arrangements
Those that are approved as foster carers get good support. However
those with residence orders, special guardianship etc, cannot access the
same level of support. (Manager, family placement team)
Looked-after status – an increasingly reliable
passport to comprehensive services
Kinship foster care the only status which entitles children and
carers to support.
Key judgements in the courts against LAs mean that kinship
foster carers should not be discriminated against financially
Manchester (2002)
Tower Hamlets (2013)
Most Children’s Services staff reported kinship foster carers are
now treated equally to mainstream foster carers:
 78% same financial/material support
 83% other forms of support
A passport difficult to obtain, with a limited life
57% professionals experience of disputes about the legal status of
the arrangement. - did the LA ‘place’ or ‘facilitate’?
Many reported unlawful decisions – historic/current
Lack of clarity in law or LA policy
 Social workers’ lack of understanding of the law
 Strategy to keep LAC nos down and minimise costs.
‘Encouragement’ to move on to private law order – special guardianship
or residence – for which support is discretionary.
SG support typically seen as inferior to both
foster care and post-adoption support
A care order provides a statutory requirement for services… we know
they're going to be monitored and there's going to be a good plan.
Support with an SGO is variable, some authorities are very good, others
that's it…they close the case (or) plan to offer services but the reality of
escalating numbers of cases is that they just don't get the attention and
drop down the priority order. (Children’s Guardian/independent social
There aren't the same sort of resources within the (special guardianship
service) that there are within the fostering service. (Designated manager)
The parallels between these situations and adoption are strong really. It’s
the treatment that’s different. (Children’s guardian)
The advantages of special guardianship
Statutory framework does confer advantages over informal care
and residence orders
Duty to establish SG support services
 SG allowances must be aligned with fostering rates
 (Lewisham (2008); Kirklees (2010)
 Carers can request an assessment of support needs
 LA must provide a report to the court
In care proceedings, independent scrutiny from children’s guardian.
Previous foster carers advantaged
LA obliged to assess support needs if requested.
Power to protect level of allowance.
Informal kinship care: doubly disadvantaged
We have a 3-tier class system. We have these lucky people who are
treated as foster-carers and even people who are on orders are sort of
lucky because we have to provide post-order support. Then you get the
others, the grandparents who are struggling looking after little Timmy on
benefits and not being able to access services. It’s really, really wrong.
(Manager, post-order support team)
No specific statutory requirements for support.
Services can be provided through CAF/TAC or child in need
In practice service delivery is variable & typically insufficient.
We get to know about them through the locality children’s
teams. They’ve not accommodated the children, they’re
viewing it as a private arrangement. They support the carers to
go for an SGO & then make the referral to us. We find that the
carer is eligible for S17 money but they often don’t get any.
They have to fight tooth and nail for everything they get. You’re
talking about grandmas on a pension. The kids come to them
with nothing. Often we’re having conversations with social work
teams around ‘this grandma needs a coat and some new shoes
for the kids, you’ve got to help them out’. (Kinship team
What needs to be done to develop needs-based
support? Key points
LAs need to implement the guidance; Government needs to
ensure this is done.
Positive indicators
Cross-government working group
 Beacons of good practice
 LAs taking action to improve services
 60% ‘some way to go but getting there’
 18% ‘long way to go but taking steps’
But LA budgets under pressure & demand increasing. May choke
off embryonic developments. Even well-established services
stretched & at risk.
What needs to be done? Key points
Central government needs to:
Strengthen the statutory framework
Ensure that current changes to legal aid & the family justice
system do not weaken the capacity of lawyers, children’s
guardians and the judiciary to protect the interests of children in
kinship care, or those who might be able to go into kinship care.
Make specific funding available to local authorities to help them
comply with the guidance.
Accept its share of responsibility for children in kinship care by
establishing a national financial allowance.
Reports on the research
Hunt, J. and Waterhouse, S. (2012) Understanding family and
friends care: the relationship between need, support and legal
status. Carers’ experiences. Family Rights Group
Aziz, R., Roth. D., Lindley, B. , edited Ashley, C. (2102)
Understanding family and friends care: The Largest U.K.
Survey. Family Rights Group
Hunt, J. and Waterhouse, S. (2013) It’s Just Not Fair! Support,
need and legal status in family and friends care. Family Rights
Available on FRG web-site.
Additional information
The questions addressed in the study
Why do children end up in kinship arrangements under different
legal statuses?
Is decision-making child-centred and needs-based or influenced
primarily by other factors?
Are carers able to make informed decisions?
How does placement support relate to a) legal status b) the needs
of the child & carer? How difficult is it to get support?
What is the impact of differences in support?
What changes in policy and practice are needed?
Recommendations for Children’s Services 1
Implement the statutory guidance, publishing & acting in accordance with
policies which explicitly refer to, & reflect, the principle that support should
be based on need.
Ensure policies are accessible & useful to carers & convey a helpful,
rather than off-putting attitude.
Set up a panel of carers & children to inform policy & practice
Ensure frontline teams act lawfully when determining the initial legal
status of the arrangement by providing training, clear procedural guidance
& and process for scrutinising decision-making. Procedures should
stipulate an arrangement cannot be declared private until carers have
received information about the option & their implications & had the
opportunity to take independent advice.
Provide an introductory information pack covering legal options & support.
Signpost new carers to independent, specialist, advice.
Pay for at least one session of legal advice with a knowledgeable lawyer
Recommendations for Children’s Services 2
Link all new kinship carers with a specialist kinship worker
Where children would otherwise be in unrelated care, offer an
assessment of support needs & an allowance aligned to the basic
fostering rate
Establish comprehensive kinship care support services, based on special
guardianship & post-adoption support & make them available on the basis
of need.
Create an infrastructure to deliver a needs-based service. Define the
designated manager’s role to oversee & promote services for all kinship
arrangements. Set up a kinship care group to collect data, audit
performance & devise a kinship care improvement strategy, involving
local agencies.
Give serious consideration to establishing dedicated kinship care teams
to conduct all assessments, assess support needs & ensure that carers
are referred to appropriate services.
Recommendations for Children’s Services 3
Ensure that dedicated teams are adequately resourced to: directly
support kinship arrangements; offer advice & training throughout the
department; work with other agencies to sensitise them to the needs of
kinship families & make them aware of the services available for such
 Provide training for all staff coming into contact with kinship
arrangements. This should not only cover the law & local authority
responsibilities but aim to increase understanding of this unique form of
care as well as addressing underlying beliefs & ideological positions
which impede good practice.
Recommendations for ADCS
Consider how to draw on the experience of authorities with wellestablished kinship services to promote needs-based support in all local
 Promote the establishment of a network of designated managers to
provide forums for the dissemination of good practice.
 Pool resources to develop training & encourage research into the
effectiveness of different models of service provision.
Recommendations for government 1
Audit LA compliance with guidance
Ofsted to carry out a thematic review
Make specific funding available to local authorities to help them comply
with the guidance
Align the statutory framework for providing non-financial support in special
guardianship with post-adoption support.
Place a duty on LAs to establish a kinship care support service for
residence order and informal arrangements, modelled on their duties in
special guardianship.
Introduce a kinship passport, modelled on the proposed adoption
passport, to provide a clear guarantee of the minimum support kinship
families can access nationwide.
Amend the definition of a child in need to include children in kinship care
because they cannot live with their parents. Make it mandatory to offer an
assessment of support needs to such families.
Recommendations for government 2
Give kinship carers the same rights to paid employment leave and
protection as adoptive parents.
Introduce a national allowance to cover the real costs of raising a child in
kinship care.
Clarify the guidance on section 20 of the Children Act.
Improve understanding of kinship care by: ensuring it is included in basic
& post-qualifying training; disseminating research & good practice;
commissioning on-line training packages for practitioners.
Require local authorities to give carers written information about the legal
status of the arrangement, their options & their implications, & to signpost
them to independent information & advice.
Stipulate that carers cannot consent to an arrangement being treated as
private until they have had an opportunity to consider this information & to
seek independent information & advice.
Adequately fund specialist independent advice services.
Recommendations for government 3
Fund work on the production & distribution of an information pack for all
carers, available in hard copy & on-line.
Monitor the combined effect of legal aid cuts, family justice reforms &
reduction in the role & capacity of children’s guardians to ensure they do
not adversely affect kinship care.
In care proceedings, change the law so that kinship carers, or those
seeking to care, are automatically parties & entitled to non-means tested
public funding.
Place LAs under a duty to offer a family group conference wherever
consideration is being given to removing a child from parental care, or, in
an emergency, soon afterwards.
Clarify that living with a kinship carer in long term foster carer can be an
appropriate way of providing permanency.
Fund a network for children raised in kinship care.

Kinship Care: need, support and legal status