Kinship foster care is when a friend or family member becomes an official foster carer for a child. This is different to other forms of kinship care as the child is then considered ‘looked after’, and you won’t have parental responsibility.
There are two main ways in which a child can become ‘looked after’ by the local authority – either with their parent’s agreement or because they are subject to a care order made by the court.
When a child is ‘looked after’, the local authority has to decide on the most appropriate place for the child to live. It is required to give preference to placing the child with a relative, friend or other ‘connected person’ if that is in the child’s best interests, but only if that person is assessed and approved as a foster carer. Other options are with foster carers the child doesn’t know, or residential care in some cases.
Without a foster carer assessment taking place, a child going to live with a relative may be regarded by the local authority as an informal kinship care arrangement and they may not support the child further despite the evidence of risk that led to the child leaving their parents. This could have major implications for your entitlement to financial and practical support. This is a complicated area of law so if a social worker has asked you to care for a child, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Although ideally you will have been assessed and approved as a foster carer before the child comes to live with you, there is clearly no time for this if a child is placed with you in a crisis. In these circumstances, the local authority can assess you quickly as a temporary foster carer so the child can be placed with you immediately. This temporary approval lasts for up to 16 weeks (or 24 weeks in exceptional circumstances) to allow time for a full assessment to be completed.
Foster carers never have parental responsibility for the child they are looking after. If the child is under a care order, the local authority will share parental responsibility with the parents. All foster carers have to sign a foster carer agreement which clarifies their role and responsibilities as well as the support they will be given by the fostering service.
The local authority must pay you the same rate of allowance as they pay other foster carers. Most local authorities also have a scheme to pay fees to foster carers in certain circumstances. If they have such a scheme it must not discriminate against kinship foster carers.
If a kinship foster placement is a long term one and there are no plans for the child to return to their parents, Children’s Services may want you to apply for a Special Guardianship Order or a Child Arrangements Order. Even if you feel this is a positive step you should not feel pushed into anything, especially as this has implications for your entitlement to support. Before applying for an order you should always seek legal advice and clarify what support would be made available under the new arrangement.