Kinship care is when a child who cannot live with their birth parents is looked after by extended family members or others with whom they have a relationship. Most kinship carers are related to the children they look after, and the majority are grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings or other family members.
Some kinship carers look after children on an informal basis, although some apply directly to the court for an order to grant them parental responsibility.
The child welfare system may become involved in making arrangements for the child to be looked after by someone within their extended family or social network. Occasionally people with a different connection (such as a friend, neighbour, teacher) step in or are asked to care for a particular child.
The following principles apply in terms of kinship care throughout the UK:
- 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.
The legislation and guidance that informs the status, role and support for kinship carers varies between the countries in the UK.
- More information about kinship care in England.
- More information about family and friends fostering in England.
- More information about kinship standards in Northern Ireland.
- Read the Northern Ireland Practice Guide for Kinship Care.