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Kinship Care: State of the Nation 2016

This report is based on the largest ever national survey of kinship carers. It explores the experience of kinship families, and draws comparison with findings from our 2010 Survey What if we said no?

Analysis of 2011 Census data indicates that there are 153,000 children in England being raised by a family member. 51% are living with a grandparent, 23% with an older sibling, and the rest are living with aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives2. These carers are known as ‘kinship’ or ‘family and friends’ carers.

Key findings

  • Parental drug or alcohol misuse is the most common reason children are unable to live with their parents. 48% of the children in kinship care have experienced parental abuse or neglect, compared to 28% reported in 2010.
  • 41% of kinship carers are looking after two or more children. Almost half the carers (49%) say they are bringing up at least one child with special needs, most commonly emotional and behavioural difficulties (36%). Of these children, 25% have received no specialist help. There appears to be no relationship between a child’s needs and their legal status, with a similar proportion of children with special needs under each type of legal agreement.
  • At £16,000, the average annual household income of kinship families is well below the national average. 42% say they or their partner had to give up work when they took on the care of children, and 34% rely on benefits as their main source of income. 46% of kinship carers say their income is not sufficient to meet the children’s needs.
  • There is a rise in the proportion receiving an allowance from their local authority (58% compared to 33%), likely linked to the rise in the use of Special Guardianship Orders (50%, compared to 20% in 2010) as opposed to Child Arrangements Orders (formerly Residence Orders) to formalise kinship care arrangements. Access to financial support is still primarily determined by the legal arrangement in place as opposed to the needs of the child, with only designated foster carers entitled to an allowance.
  • 62% of kinship carers say they didn’t feel well supported at the time of taking on the care of the children. 82% say Grandparents Plus now supports them with essential information and advice.

Conclusions and recommendations in brief

  • There needs to be greater recognition and support for the vital role of kinship carers in providing stable loving families for children unable to live with birth parents, and greater focus on providing all vulnerable children with the support they need to thrive, irrespective of the type of family they are living in.
  • National and local government should ensure kinship carers have adequate financial resources to meet children’s needs, and pay allowances to carers based on children’s needs irrespective of the legal arrangement in place. Kinship carers should be protected from benefit cuts, and exempt from requirements to seek work.
  • Greater efforts should be made to help kinship carers stay in work, including paid and unpaid leave in certain circumstances.
  • Local authorities should be required to appoint a designated lead for kinship care to ensure that appropriate support services are available to kinship carers and the children they’re caring for. All agencies in contact with children – including schools and health services – should be aware of, and able to signpost kinship families to, available support.
  • The views of children in kinship care and their carers should be sought regularly, and should inform practice and the development and delivery of support services.