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Understanding formal kinship care arrangements in England

A descriptive analysis of national administrative data focussing on two specific types of kinship care arrangements: kinship foster care whilst in care and Special Guardianship Orders (SGO) granted to kin.

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May 2022

Summary

A descriptive analysis of national administrative data focussing on two specific types of kinship care arrangements: kinship foster care whilst in care, and Special Guardianship Orders (SGO) granted to kin. The report aims to improve the understanding of experiences of children in these kinship care arrangements by looking  at the demographics, care journeys, and outcomes of children living in these kinship care arrangements.

Objectives

The aims of the project were to:

  • Examine regional variation in the use of kinship foster care and kinship special guardianship orders 
  • Describe the experiences of children living in kinship foster care and kinship special guardianship. This includes child characteristics, their care journeys into kinship care and after their first kinship care placement, and wider outcomes at age 16-18.

How we went about it

The analysis used individual-level, national data from the Children Looked After Dataset (SSDA903, CLA Dataset), linked with extracts of the National Pupil Database (NPD) between 1998/99 and 2019/20. 

We summarise the experiences of children who were in kinship care in 2019/20 and those that turned 18 in 2019/20 who have ever been in a kinship care placement using descriptive statistics. 

Key findings

Local variation

There is a high degree of local variation in the use of kinship foster care placements and of kinship SGOs. The rate of kinship care placements ranges from 4% to 39% across Local Authorities (LAs). The rate of kinship special guardianship ranges from 2% to 27%.

Demographics

Proportionally more girls live in kinship foster care and kinship special guardianship, relative to their representation in the wider care population. Children from minority ethnic groups, and Black children in particular, are underrepresented among children living in kinship foster care and kinship special guardianship. This is contrary to findings that children from minority ethnic groups are overrepresented in informal kinship care arrangements.

Care Journeys 

Children who live in kinship foster care and children who leave care to a kinship special guardian, enter care young, and enter kinship care soon after becoming looked after. Whilst in care, children who ever live in kinship foster care typically move placements more frequently than children who never live in kinship foster care, but nearly half of children never move to another care placement once they enter kinship foster care for the first time. Children who ever leave care to a kinship special guardian typically move care placement fewer times than the wider care population, and more than half leave care immediately following their first placement. A majority of children leave care to a kinship special guardian from a kinship foster care placement, where they are in care on an Interim Care Order.

Outcomes

SDQ scores, KS4 school exclusions, and KS4 school attainment for children who ever live in kinship foster care are similar to those for all children who are ever in care. Children who ever leave care to  a kinship special guardian typically have lower rates of school exclusions and higher attainment at KS4 compared to all children in care.

Implications

  • Given the strong regional variation, research is needed to explore which factors are associated with the use of kinship care arrangements within LAs, and how support for kinship foster carers and kinship special guardians varies and may be improved
  • The underrepresentation of certain groups of children within formal kinship care arrangements should be urgently examined, to ensure children and families in kinship arrangements receive the right support and to understand why fewer Black and Asian children are placed in formal kinship care arrangements
  • Policy makers and researchers need to consider what tailored support can be provided to children and young people in kinship foster care and their families to support them to achieve better outcomes
  • Future research should explore the link between the support kinship foster carers receive, the circumstances under which children are cared for in kinship foster care, and the experiences and outcomes for children living in kinship foster care arrangements.

Next steps

Due to time constraints, not all research questions proposed in the trial protocol could be answered in the final report. Upcoming analysis is scheduled to evaluate the considerable variation in the use of kinship foster care and kinship special guardianship across Local Authorities by evaluating the factors associated with their use.

WWCSC was commissioned to carry out this research by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care to inform the Review’s understanding of the area and to support the formulation of recommendations.