About kinship care
Kinship care is when a child lives full-time or most of the time with a relative or close family friend, usually because their parents are not able to care for them. The exact number of children in kinship care is unknown, but estimates using Census data suggest it could be somewhere between 120,000 and 162,000 children in England and Wales – that’s more than double the number in foster care.  Grandparents are the most common kinship carers, but older siblings, aunts, uncles, and other relatives and people who know the child well can also take on the role.
There are different types of kinship care, and the rights, responsibilities and support available to kinship families is often dependent on the type of arrangement they have. The majority of kinship carers have an informal arrangement agreed between the carer and the child’s parent(s). Other kinship carers may have a legal order made through the family court, such as a special guardianship order (SGO) or child arrangements order (CAO), which grants the carer parental responsibility and provides security for the arrangement. Others will be family and friends foster carers, where the local authority is involved in placing the child with the kinship carer following an assessment and approval process and the child is ‘looked after’ by the local authority.
Most children are in kinship care because their parents are not able to look after them, often as a result of problems with drugs or alcohol, domestic abuse or mental illness. Experiences of trauma, abuse and neglect, loss and separation are common for children in kinship care. A kinship carer provides a stable home life where children can grow and develop in a safe, positive environment. They also get to stay in their existing family network, which helps maintain their sense of identity and family relationships.
However, as Breaking Point identifies, despite their similar needs and experiences to those who are looked after in local authority care, kinship children struggle to access adequate educational and therapeutic support. The already vulnerable position of their kinship carers is compounded by a lack of financial, practical and emotional support, leading to significant challenges with poverty, ill health and family relationships. Given that the only alternative care option for most kinship children would be the local authority care system, it is imperative that support for kinship families is improved urgently.
About the report
Breaking Point: kinship carers in crisis, published during Kinship Care Week 2023, marks the first of a series of reports based on key findings from our 2023 annual survey.
As common with previous annual survey reports from Kinship, it provides an updated ‘state of the nation’ overview of kinship households in 2023 and the challenges they are facing, exploring in particular kinship carers’ financial situations and experiences with local authority support and information, and identifies how many kinship families are at crisis point and at risk of breakdown if additional support is not provided. Future reports will explore other key issues facing kinship families using the information shared with us by kinship carers within the 2023 annual survey, including kinship children’s experiences with education, SEND/ALN and mental health, kinship family contact and relationships, and financial support for kinship carers.
Case studies included come from kinship carers who completed our 2023 annual survey and specified they were interested in supporting our activity to campaign and raise awareness of kinship care. All are shared with full permission. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
About the 2023 annual survey
Kinship has conducted an annual survey of kinship carers for over a decade. The findings help us to develop an understanding of what life has been like for kinship carers over the previous year, and learn more about the issues they and their families face so that we can deliver support services attuned to their needs and campaign for the policy and practice changes they want to see.
The survey was developed using Form Assembly and open to responses from 15 August to 4 September 2023. It was promoted widely via Kinship’s Community of kinship carers, social media channels, partner organisations, and our networks of professionals and researchers.
In total, the survey received 1,657 responses from kinship carers caring for at least 2,416 children in England and Wales. For the first time in a Kinship annual survey, some questions were asked on a ‘per child’ basis with respondents able to select different responses for each kinship child they care for, allowing us to understand in greater detail the makeup of kinship households and supporting more robust comparisons with other relevant datasets collected for specific cohorts of children.
kinship carers responded to our 2023 annual survey.
kinship children were being raised by them.
Most respondents to this survey are likely to be kinship carers who our members of our Kinship Community or who were referred to the survey by other organisations providing support for kinship families. This, compounded by the overrepresentation of kinship carers in more formalised arrangements within our survey cohort, means they are likely to be more aware of the services that we or other organisations offer and are more likely to have received support than other kinship carers. As such, the findings from this and future reports may represent a more positive view of kinship carers’ experiences than is experienced by many.