Understanding formal kinship care

08 July 2022

When keeping a child with their family isn’t possible, social workers will first look within a child’s network for alternative care options. Known as ‘kinship care’, this can be a temporary or permanent plan for a child that avoids the potential trauma of moving to live with carers they don’t know. The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care promoted the use of kinship care as a way of ensuring children live in loving and stable homes. There is a growing body of evidence about kinship care, but little is known about the profile and journeys of children living in kinship care. Our research analysed national administrative data on children in kinship foster care and children on a special guardianship order (after leaving care) with a kinship carer. In this blog we focus on three key findings: regional variations in use of kinship care, unequal use of kinship care for children from different minority ethnic groups and children’s outcomes. 

Our first finding showed striking regional variation in the use of kinship care across England. For kinship special guardianship placements, this ranged from 2% to 27%. Variation was even higher for kinship foster care placements, which ranged from 4% to 39%. This striking difference raises questions as to how different local authorities are using kinship care. We are currently conducting further analyses to understand what factors explain this variation. 

We also found that children from minority ethnic groups are, on average, underrepresented in formal kinship care arrangements relative to all children in care. For example, only 4% of children in formal kinship care arrangements are Black, whereas 8% of all children in care are Black children. In conjunction with other studies, our results suggest that children from minority ethnic groups are overrepresented in informal (privately arranged) kinship care. Further research is needed urgently to identify why the system currently places fewer children from some minority ethnic groups in formal kinship arrangements.

Existing research suggests that kinship foster carers often face disadvantages: they are more likely to be caring alone, to experience financial difficulties, live in overcrowded conditions or have a disability or chronic health condition when compared to non-relative foster carers. Our analysis showed that the social and emotional wellbeing and educational outcomes for children who have been in kinship foster care are roughly similar to outcomes for all children in care. Children in a kinship special guardianship placement had slightly better educational outcomes at age 16 than all children who had ever been in care. But the outcomes for both groups of children were still far behind their peers who had never been in care. Urgent solutions are required to help these children to achieve better outcomes. 

It seems likely that kinship care will continue to be prioritised over other types of care for children who cannot live with their birth parents. That’s why it is crucial that we learn more about it, including how decisions are made to place children in kinship care, what support is offered to children and their carers and ultimately how outcomes for children in kinship care can be improved. Whilst we await a full response from the government to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, we continue to work towards answering these questions and provide evidence that will help practitioners and families alike.

We will be unpacking our Kinship care research further in our lunchtime webinar on 25 July. You can sign up for the webinar here and find out more about all our upcoming webinars on our research as part of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care here.