How can I support children in kinship care?
Children growing up in kinship care may have similar needs to those being raised in statutory care or through adoption, however, they are often overlooked. As a professional working in an education setting, you can help ensure these children’s specific needs are met, firstly by understanding more about their situation and then helping to get the support they need.
How will I know if a child is in kinship care?
It’s not always easy to tell – kinship care families come in all shapes and sizes. Anyone can be a kinship carer – grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, cousins, step family, other relatives and family friends can all take on the role.
Some kinship carers will have legal orders – Special Guardianship Orders, Residence or Child Arrangement Orders – that give them parental responsibility over children, and some might be registered as kinship foster carers.
However, many kinship carers won’t have any documentation showing that they’re the main carer for a child, and may not even realise that they’re considered kinship carers.
There are a few things you can look out for:
- You may become aware that a child’s parent/s have died, are involved in the criminal justice system, or have other family issues that mean their ability to care for their children might be interrupted either temporally or permanently. It is okay to enquire about the children’s circumstances.
- Children who are, or have been, subject to child protection plans, child in need plans, or early help plans, are more likely to be living in kinship care than other children. They are also at increased risk of having unstable home situations and may regularly move in an out of kinship care.
- Children, especially young children, do not know what kinship care is and would not name it as such. However, they are likely to drop clues about their home situations when talking, playing or doing school work. For example, their stories about what they did in the holidays might revolve around their grandparents, or they may talk about going to visit a parent. Be alert for these clues.
- Often kinship carers live in poverty. If a child is showing signs their family might be struggling financially, for example the children are hungry, their clothes and shoes are in disrepair etc. then the possibility they are living in kinship care needs to be considered.
How can I support children in kinship care?
Many children in kinship care have had difficult early life experiences. They might have experienced abuse and/or neglect. They are likely to have suffered the loss, either permanently or temporarily, of their parents. Many have had periods or instability and uncertainty in their lives.
These traumatic experiences are likely to affect all aspects of the children’s development. They may struggle educationally. They might find it difficult to make and maintain friendships with their peers or relationship with adults. The children might be hypersensitive to being shouted at or being told off and they may respond in strange or challenging ways.
Some of the behaviours the children develop to cope with their experiences can be challenging in a school or social environment. For example:
- they might be defiant
- they may struggle to concentrate and sit still
- they may isolate themselves
- they may self-harm
- they may be disproportionately sensitive to friendship difficulties
- they may bully others or be bullied.
Often the children cannot control their behaviours in the same way that children who have not had these experiences can.
- Children’s experiences need to be considered when teaching them and managing their behaviour. Please seek appropriate training from your local authority, LSCB or other specialist training providers. Books such as ‘Attachment in the Classroom: A Practical Guide for Schools’ by Heather Geddes are a useful resource.
- Learn about the specific needs of kinship carers and share this with other staff
- Find out if they’re eligible for Pupil Premium Plus
- Find out if they’re eligible for support from the Virtual School Head
- Signpost families to Kinship, the kinship care charity, for free advice, information and support, and other relevant organisations
- Please talk to kinship carers. Often they are isolated and do not know where to turn for support or advice. Schools can be the first point of contact for kinship carers and may be able to offer support or signpost them on to other services.
- Consider starting a starting a system where kinship carers agree for their information to be shared with other kinship carers in the school to allow a peer support community to develop.
- Speak to kinship carers who are struggling to cope and ask if they would consent to a referral to the local authority for early help support if necessary.
Watch our three minute film about some of the challenges kinship families may be facing: