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Growing Up in Kinship Care

Experiences as Adolescents and Outcomes in Young Adulthood

Authors: Sarah Wellard, Sarah Meakings, Elaine Farmer and Joan Hunt

For children who are unable to live with their parents, kinship care arrangements (living with extended family or friends) represent the most frequently used form of alternative provision in England (Wijedasa, 2015). Analysis of the 2001 UK census data found that around 173,200 children were growing up with a relative in kinship care (Nandy et al., 2011). A decade later, the 2011 census showed that the kinship child population in England had increased by 7%, meaning that as many as one in seventy-four children were growing up in the care of the extended family (Wijedasa, 2015).

There are many, often complex, circumstances that result in the need for kinship care. They include parental difficulties and adversities such as drug and alcohol misuse, mental health problems, physical illness, learning difficulties, domestic violence, homelessness and imprisonment. Some children move in with extended family or friends when a parent dies. Most children enter kinship care with a history of maltreatment and with parents who have been unable or unwilling to prioritise their needs (Selwyn et al., 2013). Some children have a disability or behaviour problem that leads to parents being unable to care safely for them (Department for Education, 2011). Children living in kinship care will often have faced a similar range of adversities to children looked after in state care. Indeed, many children living with extended family and friends would be in local authority care, had their relatives not stepped in to bring them up (Hunt et al., 2008; Farmer and Moyers, 2008; Selwyn et al., 2013). Whilst there is a considerable literature on the disadvantages and difficulties faced by young people leaving local authority care (see for example, Stein, 2012; Wade, 2014), much less is known about how children who have been brought up in kinship care get on as young adults. Do they do better or worse than care leavers and how do they compare with young people in the general population?

To our knowledge there are no UK studies which address these questions and the international literature is sparse. There appear to be only two studies which explore the perspectives of young adults brought up in kinship care (Del Valle et al., 2011; Dolbin-Macnab et al., 2009) and four that consider outcomes in adulthood (Benedict et al., 1996; Carpenter and Clyman, 2004; Fechter Leggett and O’Brien, 2010; Del Valle et al., 2011).

The objective of this research, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and conducted by Grandparents Plus, was to fill this gap in our knowledge. More specifically, the aims of the study were to examine the experiences and outcomes of young adults, aged 16-26, who had lived, or continued to live, in kinship care. Information was sought on their relationships with family and friends (including their kinship carer, parents and siblings), their health and wellbeing, educational attainment, and access to further training, higher education and employment. Where possible, comparisons were drawn between the progress of young people in our study and that of care leavers and/ or young people in the general population. Since there have been concerns about the young age at which care leavers move to independent living (see for example, Wade and Dixon, 2006; HM Government, 2016), we wanted to consider how the transition to independence was experienced by young people in kinship care, or in fact, how often the young people remained living in the kinship household as young adults. The study also set out to capture the views and experiences of kinship carers.