What works for Kinship Care and Special Guardianship Orders

07 October 2022

Kinship Care Week 2022 falls at a time of unprecedented attention on the role of kinship care. The celebratory week is run each year by the charity Kinship to shine a spotlight on the very important role played by kinship carers across England and Wales in both children’s lives and our society. This year it follows the publication of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, which made several recommendations surrounding kinship care. These include a call for increased support for kinship carers, with recommendations focussing on financial allowances, kinship care leave and access to legal aid and advice. 

However, from the supporting evidence we provided to the Review it became very clear that the use of kinship care arrangements vary across local authorities. We found that the share of children who were living in family and friends foster care in 2019/20 ranged from 4% to 39% across local authorities in England, and there was a similar range for the share of Kinship Special Guardianship orders (SGOs) also. 

Our findings raise questions about why there are such wide differences in local authorities’ use of kinship care. Is this caused by the different approaches used by local authorities’ to identify and prepare kinship carers? Does the way in which they support kinship carers affect the rate of placements? And what is the role of the courts in this local variation? 

These are some of the questions that we are now asking in our ongoing research projects which explore the causes of this high local variation in the number of kinship care placements. 

To do this, we have two strands of work. In the first, we explore whether there are commonalities amongst local authorities that have a particularly high (or low) share of kinship care placements. We are looking at questions such as “Do local authorities with lower caseloads tend to have more kinship care placements?” These findings will be essential to understand if there are common themes among local authorities that have a higher share of kinship carers.

However, this data analysis alone can only shed limited light on the existing differences across local authorities in terms of the support provided  to kinship carers. Therefore, we will complement this research with a second strand of work – a nationwide survey which we will send to local authorities in January 2023 to understand the support and services available to kinship carers across local authorities, and, through subsequent analysis, what impact these have on the numbers of kinship carers and where possible, the impact on children in these placements. This work is done in collaboration with the charity Kinship, supported by funding from the government’s Evaluation Accelerator Fund (EAF) and will help us get a clearer picture of the legal and financial support, training and access to information available for kinship carers. 

We also hope that this work will help to understand how kinship carers are best supported. We will be looking at innovative practices that are already in place in some areas to ensure that children in kinship care and their carers have the support they need to thrive and reach their full potential. 

Kinship care week may be coming to an end, but we are only at the beginning of this research journey. If you have thoughts about what may explain local authority level variation in the use of kinship care and would like to talk to us, do reach out to eva.schoenwald@whatworks-csc.org.uk, we’d love to hear from you.