Our kinship care policy tracker is the best place to understand more about the current state of play for kinship care policy in England.
Kinship care is a fast-moving policy space. In Februrary 2023, the Government published its children’s social care implementation strategy and consultation – Stable Homes, Built on Love – and committed to delivering a dedicated kinship care strategy by the end of the year. In September 2023, the Government recommited to this in its repsonse to the consultation and the more than 400 kinship carers who shared their views to inform its work.
Below you’ll find an overview of what’s currently happening and what we think should happen next across a range of kinship care policy areas. Our policy tracker does not represent a formal nor complete response in all areas; we regularly update the content below as progress is made, as new evidence emerges, and as our thinking as an organisation develops. We want to share our views early and often so you and others can help strengthen and support our policy work.
To learn more about key policy areas for Kinship and explore reports, briefings and other resources, visit our policy and influencing page. For further information or for a conversation about Kinship’s work to influence national and local policy, please get in touch.
23 Nov: Amended ‘Financial allowances’ and ‘Kinship care leave’ sections following the Autumn Statement 2023.
1 Nov: Amended ‘Training and support or kinship carers’ section following announcement of a new national training and support offer to be delivered by Kinship.
27 Sep: Revised structure to add separate ‘Defining kinship care’ and ‘Data’ sections, added new information on the ONS’ analysis of kinship households, added news on Tesco’s commitment to kinship care leave, and downgraded ‘Prioritising and supporting early kinship arrangements’ to ‘In the right direction…’ following the Government’s Stable Homes response.
18 Sep: Added updated information on kinship care and data in the ‘Recognising kinship care’ section, including noting the forthcoming 2021 Census analysis release.
26 July: Amended information on the pathfinder and pilot activity in the ‘Prioritising and supporting early kinship arrangements’ section following the release of further details, including participating local authorities.
19 July: Added updated information on the Family Network Support Package pilots in the ‘Prioritising and supporting early kinship arrangements’ section.
5 July: Added to the ‘Financial allowances’ section to include a recent recommendation from the Lords Public Services Committee, and updated the ‘Training and support for kinship carers’ and ‘Recognising kinship care’ sections (e.g. to include details of a new tender for a national kinship care dataset).
15 June: Updated ‘Kinship care leave’ section to include reference to Forced Out, clarified language in ‘Prioritising and supporting early kinship arrangements’ section, and added note re: ‘whole family’ support in ‘Support for kinship children’ section.
2 May: Updated ‘Access to legal aid’ section with note of new extended eligibility for those pursuing special guardianship in private family law.
26 April: Updated ‘Access to legal aid’ section with additional evidence on non-parental private family law applications.
16 March: Updated ‘Financial allowances’ and ‘Kinship care leave’ sections following announcements made in the 2023 Spring Budget around childcare, Qualifying Care Relief and flexible working.
13 March: First published.
Good progress is being made.
In the right direction, but further and faster effort required.
Action significantly lagging behind what’s needed.
- 💚 Recognising kinship care
- 💚 A national kinship care strategy
- 💛 Defining kinship care
- 💛 Data
- 💛 Prioritising and supporting early kinship arrangements
- 💛 Financial allowances
- 💛 Kinship care leave
- 💚 Training and support for kinship carers
- 💛 Access to legal aid
- ❤️ Support for kinship children
- 💛 Improving local authority practice
Recognising kinship care
The Government is placing support from family networks at the heart of its new vision for children’s social care.
What’s happening now?
The Government’s implementation strategy recognised that kinship care options can offer stable and permanent options for children who cannot live with their parents. It highlighted the strengths of family networks which help children maintain connections with siblings and other relationships into adulthood, support identity and belonging, and lead to better outcomes in education and health.
This recognition of kinship care as a distinct and valuable element within children’s social care, and the celebration of its positive impact for children and society, marked a step change from previous Government rhetoric and action which focused almost exclusively on fostering and adoption. After decades of being overlooked and marginalised, the value of this acknowledgement by Government of kinship families’ challenges and strengths is new and welcome.
In its response to the Stable Homes consultation, the Government acknowledged that the “level of interest in support for kinship carers” had “reaffirmed how important it is to act now”. We were delighted to lead the way in supporting kinship carers to share their views with the Government on its plans; over 400 kinship carers responded to the consultation, representing nearly half of all respondents.
The Government is continuing to work towards establishing a new Children’s Social Care National Framework which sets the direction for practice with children and families. Following a consultation on the proposed National Framework between February and May 2023, it has reiterated plans to issue this framework as statutory guidance by the end of the year. There will be an implementation period of one year to follow in order to give local authorities the opportunity to embed the National Framework with additional information, support and examples of best practice available.
Outcome 2 (of four) within the Framework is “children and young people are supported by their family network”. The Framework aims to set out how leaders and practitioners should strive to achieve this outcome, and how children, young people and families should be listened to in practice. In the Government’s response following the consultation, it has committed to strengthening the focus on family networks in the National Framework, including areas of practice beyond Outcome 2 where family networks do not always have consistent attention.
What should happen next?
It is welcome that the Government has finally established kinship care as a key part of the children’s social care system, and placed it at the heart of its new National Framework to set national direction and local authority practice. It’s also right that the wider principles underpinning children’s social care include recognition that children are best raised in family environments where possible – one of the key principles within the Children Act 1989 – and that practice and services are poverty-aware and anti-discriminatory, and are drawn from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
As noted in more detail below in ‘A national kinship care strategy‘, the next step is for the Government to recognises and celebrate the unique nature of kinship care in its reform programme, and ensure it considers all different forms of kinship family – and their needs and strengths – holistically.
A national kinship care strategy
The Government plans to deliver a national kinship care strategy at the end of this year.
What’s happening now?
The Government agreed within its children’s social care implementation strategy that “kinship care has received little national policy attention” and that “even where children are in kinship arrangements, too little support is given to extended family members who play a caring role for their young relatives”. It acknowledged that this has led to a postcode lottery of support typically based on where families live rather than on children’s needs.
The Government plans to deliver a dedicated national kinship care strategy by the end of the year. This commitment, originally made within Stable Homes, Built on Love, marked a significant win for our #ValueOurLove campaign which called upon the Government to deliver a specific kinship care strategy in response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.
The intention is for the strategy to set out the Government’s position on kinship care and its plans to better support children and their carers, updating on progress with existing reform activity as well as where decisions on specific commitments remain outstanding (e.g. around financial allowances). The Government has said that this also offers an opportunity to consider new commitments or further work on issues missing from the children’s social care implementation strategy or Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommendations, such as educational entitlements for children in kinship care.
In its recent response to the Stable Homes consultation, the Government has recommitted to delivering the strategy at the end of the year. It also plans to strengthen the relevant Family and Friends Care guidance – last updated in 2011 – to set direction for how local authorities can promote kinship care.
What should happen next?
We continue to welcome the decision to deliver a dedicated kinship care strategy which finally gives kinship care the focused policy attention it deserves. For too long, kinship care has been seen as an ‘add on’ to policies and services designed with other families in mind (e.g. the Adoption Support Fund). We’re excited about how a dedicated, national plan for kinship care can provide clear, strategic direction and drive long-term investment and action from Government, as seen in other areas such as adoption.
It is crucial the strategy recognises that kinship care is fundamentally different to other forms of care for children who cannot live with their parents. Simply extending entitlements or support currently available to foster or adoptive families – without consideration of the unique needs, strengths and circumstances of kinship care – will not deliver what kinship families need nor the outcomes intended. The forthcoming strategy provides an opportunity to demonstrate the Government recognises this and take positive steps towards the development of a new system which finally gives kinship care the holistic focus it needs. This should be expressed clearly within updated statutory guidance accompanying the new strategy.
The strategy should explain how kinship care fits into the Government’s wider vision for children’s social care, and clarify how local authorities can work towards this today together with Governemnt and other crucial partners, including the voluntary sector. It must balance the need for longer term reform which will take time and legislation with the more immediate actions which can be taken to improve support urgently. This is vital given the finding from our Breaking Point report that 12% of kinship carers are worried about their ability to continue caring for their children in the next year if their circumstances don’t improve, risking over 19,000 children potentially entering the care system. This is avoidable – but decisions cannot be delayed further.
It is vital that the Government uses the kinship care strategy to deliver outstanding commitments around financial allowances, kinship care leave, and improved support for children in kinship care. Our #ValueOurLove campaign will continue to hold the Government to account on its action in these areas. Additional commitments should come with a clear timeline for implementation, backed by appropriate funding: additional investment in any part of children’s social care was missing from the 2023 Autumn Statement and we echo the calls of the Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Children’s Services and other groups for the Governemnt to ensure children’s services has the funding it needs to fulfil not only its statutory duties but provide all children and families with the support they need. Local authorities cannot be expected to do increasingly more with increasingly less; radical recalibration of services, practices and culture which better prioritise and support kinship care cannot be delivered successfully without greater financial and workforce stability supported by wider investment too in children’s social care.
The views and expertise of kinship families must meaningfully shape the Government’s kinship care strategy. We have been proud to support kinship carers to share their views with the Department as the strategy develops through the Kinship Carer Reference Group, but Government should work closely with organisations such as Kinship to ensure a range of mechanisms and opportunities enable a large and diverse range of kinship carers to input into the development and subsequent delivery of this strategy. They should identify, support and challenge local authorities to ensure they consider the expertise of kinship carers within the implementation of the new National Framework and kinship care strategy. Continued engagement must also include listening and acting on the views of children growing up in kinship care; their perspectives and views are far less well understood and evidenced in the literature than for other groups supported by children’s social care, despite some limited examples of welcome research.
In particular, the strategy should seek to explore the impact of the Government’s existing and proposed reform plans through an equalities lens, identifying in what ways its commitments will or will not disproportionately impact on kinship carers and children from specific ethnic backgrounds. This is important given the evidence on racial disparities in kinship care, and particularly the overrepresentation of children from Black and minoritized ethnic backgrounds in informal kinship care arrangements. The strategy should be accompanied by both a thorough equalities impact assessment (EIA) and child rights impact assessment (CRIA).
Defining kinship care
The Government has consulted on a ‘working definition’ of kinship care and plans to publish a revised definition in its forthcoming kinship care strategy.
What’s happening now?
Last year, the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommended establishing a legal definition of kinship care, particularly to improve the visibility of and support for kinship families across policy-making and public services, and to help kinship carers to understand their rights and entitlements and in turn access support.
In Stable Homes, the Government proposed a ‘working definition’ of kinship care and, following consultation, plans to publish a finalised definition in the forthcoming kinship care strategy including further detail on the establishment and use of the definition
What should happen next?
The working definition pulls together different types of kinship care arrangements already understood but not clearly defined as ‘kinship care’ in other legislation and guidance, and builds on this to also include those missing or excluded from existing categories. For example, a proposed ‘friend or family member’ category explicitly covers relatives such as great aunts, great uncles and cousins who wouldn’t be included within the existing definition of ‘close family member’ within the Children Act 1989. This is important and welcome – 11% of kinship carers who completed our 2022 annual survey would not be seen as ‘close family members’ for example.
However, it is important that any future definition is accompanied by a clear pathway for all kinship carers to access high-quality support from the Government, local authorities and other partners. The Government’s reform plans speak to likely restricting certain aspects of support – such as financial allowances and kinship care leave – to kinship carers with a special guardianship order or child arrangements order; the practical value of a new definition of kinship care, even if inclusive of more kinship carers than those captured within current legislation, is questionable if it is not directly tied to improved support. Indeed, there is a risk that, in pursuit of actionable specificity, a new definition establishes new or further hierarchies in which groups of kinship carers have eligibility for particular entitlements, and prevents those who may have accessed flexible support earlier from being able to do so.
It’s welcome that the Government has agreed in its response to the consultation that further guidance is needed on how the definition would work in practice and relate to access to support. Further consultation with sector organisations, local authorities and kinship families should explore this and what would be considered in practice to be a “significant amount of the time” and “temporary or longer term”. The Government should provide clarity in its kinship care strategy about how any definition would be used and what support it would unlock, particularly for kinship carers in informal arrangements.
Finally, following consultation on the working definition of kinship care, the kinship care strategy should also detail how the Government will raise awareness and ensure the needs and strengths of kinship families are considered in wider policy-making and service provision across Government, including in relevant programmes of work such as family hubs and the Start for Life programme. It should include an ambitious programme to boost awareness of kinship care within public services and groups of professionals who are likely to engage with kinship families, including primary health practitioners.
The Government is establishing a new data dashboard and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published new analysis of Census 2021 data.
What’s happening now?
Alongside the National Children’s Social Care Framework (see Recognising kinship care), the Government is also working to produce a Children’s Social Care Dashboard. This intends to be a routine data publication based on a set of Dashboard Indicators which aim to help identify trends across local authorities and monitor progress towards each outcome. The original proposed Dashboard Indicators associated with Outcome 2 were:
- % of section 31 proceedings that end with the child living with parents, and the age of the children in the proceedings.
- % of children in care living with their family networks.
Following consultation, the Government has recognised it does not have the data needed to measure all the outcomes and will be undertaking further work to identify what is needed to collect this and how. Roll out of the Dashboard will now be phased with an iterative approach from 2024 following publication of a short list of indicators in December 2023.
There is no available data that gives us an accurate and robust understanding of kinship families. In September 2023, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its analysis of kinship households from the Census 2021. This finds that there were around 121,000 children living in kinship care households across England and Wales, although there are significant limitations to the use of the Census questions to determine this. Although these numbers suggest a significant drop in the number of children in kinship care from the 162,400 found in Wijedasa’s 2011 Census analysis, we shouldn’t be tempted to draw this conclusion: comparing the two different analyses isn’t appropriate due to significant methodological differences. For more information, please see our full response to the new ONS data release.
The Government has also previously released plans to commission the production of a one-off national dataset derived from existing local authority data.
What should happen next?
The original National Framework consultation noted that future Dashboard Indicators within Outcome 2 may in future include the stability of family network arrangements and the numbers of children in kinship care placements. It is clear that the proposed number and quality of Dashboard Indicators was and is significantly limited by the lack of available and robust data on kinship care arrangements, and it is welcome the Government has acknowledged this and plans to improve understanding to support more effective and robust Dashboard Indicators.
It’s welcome the Government commissioned analysis of kinship care households from the Office for National Statistics to give us a picture from the Census 2021. However, the existing data picture for kinship care isn’t enough to give us the accurate and robust understanding of kinship families we need, and we continue to be over-reliant on Census analysis and what we can gather directly from local authorities, neither of which are necessarily the most appropriate tools. There must be a holistic and comprehensive approach to collecting data specifically on kinship families, from the right sources, to properly inform policy and practice. The invisibility of kinship families allows children and their carers to remain just that to policymakers – this must end if we are serious about truly transforming support for kinship families of all types.
The Government should work closely with Kinship and other expert sector organisations such as Foundations and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory to identify gaps in statutory and wider data collection and publication, and confirm further plans to improve this within its kinship care strategy and its new children’s social care data strategy to be published by the end of 2023. This should include utilising other means of data collection available within Government (e.g. the School Census) and plans to link up local authority data held by the Department for Education with family court data collected by the Ministry of Justice. The new children’s social care data and digital expert forum must too include individuals with expertise around kinship care.
Dashboard Indicators included in the forthcoming short list for Outcome 2 should not push the system towards increasing the number and/or proportion of all children unable to live with their parents into kinship care before accompanying reforms to financial and other support for all kinship carers have been introduced. To do so would be dangerous and not in children’s best interests. We urge the Government to make additional commitments to support kinship carers in the forthcoming kinship care strategy, and only seek to include Dashboard Indicators which incentivise the placing of more children into kinship care once we are confident these different arrangements are well-supported by policy and practice.
Prioritising and supporting early kinship arrangements
The Government is investing in piloting new models of ‘family first’ delivery and support packages for kinship carers within selected local authorities.
What’s happening now?
Following the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’s recommendation that a legal right to family group decision-making is introduced along with new Family Network Plans to better support kinship arrangements to prevent a child going into care, the Government announced £45 million investment into two programmes of work to test how to better identify and support early kinship arrangements: a ‘Families First for Children Pathfinder’ and a separate series of pilots focused on Family Network Support Packages. The Government has said that family-led solutions should be considered for all children prior to entering care, or at earliest opportunity afterwards.
The majority of the funding is delivering the Families First for Children Pathfinder (FFC) from July 2023 to March 2025: this aims to understand how to best roll out reforms to Family Help, child protection and kinship care in tandem, improving understanding on implementing “end-to-end service reform” and how each element impacts one another and the experience of children and families. 3 local authorities are participating in Wave 1, with a second set of local areas expected to launch in spring 2024.
The Pathfinders intend to support local authorities to make greater use of family networks, with earlier use of family group decision-making to better identify support from kinship carers, facilitated by targeted funding through new Family Network Support Packages. The intention is to understand how these two elements work alongside existing Children in Need plans and Child Protection Plans, including exploring the necessary oversight arrangements required to keep children safe whilst minimising state intervention into family life, and how to use local authority funding more flexibly to provide support for families where children would otherwise be in care.
In the strategy, the Government highlights that, whilst family group decision-making is offered quite widely already and has a strong evidence base for preventing children going into care and for cost-effectiveness, the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care found that too few local authorities involved wider family early enough. As such, further introduction of family group decision-making intends to “create a culture of actively seeking out family networks, in order to consider their voice and empower them to be involved in solutions with parents” and “should be used early on as a method to consider how family networks can support parents and minimise risk to a child”.
In addition to the Pathfinder, a separate £7.8 million Family Network Pilot (FNP) series is being delivered which tests out only the introduction of Family Network Support Packages in isolation within seven local authorities: 4 in Wave 1 having begun in summer 2023 and 3 others expected to follow in summer 2024. This is intended to evaluate the impact of these Packages on keeping families together and preventing children going into care, and the costs and savings associated with implementation.
Family Network Support Packages are renamed from the ‘Family Network Plans’ recommended by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care following feedback that a new ‘Plan’ could introduce legal confusion and additional burdens. Their aims remain similar however, as a structure to support family-led alternatives used prior to a child entering care which enable extended family networks to provide additional and substantial care for children.
What should happen next?
It is understandable that the Government wants to test out new ways of working in tandem with each other to learn more about how to implement whole-system reforms successfully. In its Stable Homes consultation response, the Government has said it is “proposing to develop the pathfinders on an incremental basis, with certain elements that we’d need to see as a minimum now and an expectation that the pathfinder would expand its remit in future after we have tested and evaluated the concept”. However, this is unlikely to provide sufficient clarity for other local authorities who want to pioneer new ways of working today, and longer term expectations around funding, timescales and accompanying points of assessment to stop, scale or adjust pilot activity were missing from the Government’s response. The forthcoming kinship care strategy would be a good opportunity to share more information on this – particularly for the standalone Family Network Pilot.
According to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, the kind of support offered via Family Network Plans (now known as Family Network Support Packages) could include significant and intensive efforts which respond flexibly to fund different families’ needs, including “providing funding to make adaptations to a relative’s home through to compensating someone for reduced working hours”. This level of intensive support must be realised within the delivery of the Pathfinder and pilots in order to properly evidence how early support can deliver better experiences and outcomes for families, and establish more effective spending practices for local authorities.
The shift towards much earlier involvement of and funded support for kinship carers prior to a legal order being made and without the child having to become ‘looked after’ is welcome, particularly as support for informal kinship carers is often poor or non-existent. Our recent survey – The Cost of Loving – found that only 4% of informal kinship carers received financial support from their local authority, despite their children’s similar needs and experiences to those in other forms of kinship care. Too many kinship carers are perversely incentivised to become foster carers and their children ‘looked after’ as this is the only way which kinship families can often access guaranteed support.
However, the Pathfinder and pilots must seek to understand how to balance requirements for assessment and ongoing formal oversight from local authorities whilst respecting the unique nature of kinship care and its position straddling state-led child welfare intervention and private family life. This was a key message within our response to the Government’s consultation. Kinship carers should be involved in co-designing how to do this well, and in ways which reduce unnecessary, stigmatising and invasive practice.
It is also important that kinship carers who have taken steps towards permanence through securing a special guardianship order, for example, aren’t ‘locked out’ of potential support through a Family Network Support Package if their assessed needs determine this is the only way to offer the level of support required and where there is a risk the child would otherwise go into care.
In delivery of the pilots, local authorities and the Department for Education should consider the role of the voluntary sector, especially where collaboration could provide further insight and evidence about how the support offered through programmes such as Kinship Connected – which delivers intensive 1:1 support and facilitated peer support groups – can further improve experience and outcomes for families alongside practice reforms.
As noted above, although testing of new approaches to supporting kinship care is welcome, the radical recalibration of services, practices and culture cannot be delivered successfully without greater financial and workforce stability. The Government should ensure all local authorities, including those not participating in the Pathfinder or pilots, have the funding they need to deliver their statutory duties and so that all children and families are supported as they need to be.
The Government is exploring the case for mandating a financial allowance for all special guardians and kinship carers with child arrangements orders.
What’s happening now?
The Government is continuing to “explore the case for mandating” a financial allowance for special guardians and kinship carers with child arrangements orders in every local authority in England. It plans to provide an update in the forthcoming kinship care strategy.
Stable Homes agreed with the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’s assessment that the current system perversely incentivises kinship carers to become foster carers given this can be the only route to access financial support, and acknowledges this can be a barrier to permanence for children who would otherwise be cared for under a different legal order which confers parental responsibility to the kinship carer.
As such, the Government has not yet committed to implementing the Review’s recommendation that these same groups of kinship carers looking after children who would otherwise be in care are provided with a financial allowance. Our #ValueOurLove campaign has put significant pressure on the Government to equalise the provision of financial allowances between kinship carers, and we are disappointed a firmer commitment has not been made at this stage to bring forward legislation to deliver this change.
The Government celebrates those local authorities who offer equivalent financial support already and have removed such barriers, and has said it will encourage all local authorities to review their own policies to better identify and support kinship carers in the interim ahead of the strategy. Stable Homes highlights that “this often makes good financial sense for local authorities, kinship carers and, ultimately, for children and their outcomes”. It argues the provision of flexible funding for kinship arrangements makes economic sense, noting that some local authorities have seen a financial benefit – particularly where this has reduced the numbers of children in care – and encourages others to follow suit. However, it rightly warns that kinship care “should not be seen as a free (or nearly free) option for local authorities to reduce costs. Savings should be diverted to supporting kinship carers and children”.
What should happen next?
Through our #ValueOurLove campaign, we will continue to campaign for a commitment from Government to introducing a standard national financial allowance and push for this to be included within the kinship care strategy. This allowance should be equivalent to the national minimum fostering allowance and non-means tested, and any Government commitment should come with additional funding for local authorities to accompany delivery.
The Lords Public Services Committee in its response to the children’s social care implementation strategy has recently too encouraged the Government to go further in the forthcoming kinship care strategy, suggesting that it “should ensure that sufficient financial support for those caring for their kin is provided regardless of whether the arrangement is formal or informal, and that it is consistent across England. Additional funding should be allocated to local authorities to provide this support in the immediate future.”
The Government should listen to the evidence included within the implementation strategy on the elevated exposure of kinship families to poverty and financial insecurity, including that from our recent surveys. Elsewhere in its strategy, the Government recognised the value of strong financial support for carers raising vulnerable children, including within plans to test Family Network Support Packages and to raise the National Minimum Allowance for foster carers by 12.43%. In the 2023 Spring Budget, the Government too announced an increase in the threshold at which foster carers (including kinship foster carers) eligible for Qualifying Care Relief begin to pay tax. The success of other reforms such as these depend on closing the significant gaps in support which exist for kinship families moving towards permanence.
The kinship care strategy should ensure all kinship carers can access other elements of financial support which can better support family life, such as free childcare. Currently, some kinship families can be unfairly locked out of existing childcare support schemes (e.g. 15 hours free childcare for 2 year olds) where there isn’t a legal order securing the family arrangement and when the child wasn’t previously in local authority care. The expansion of free childcare hours announced in the 2023 Spring Budget could help more kinship families access childcare, but using the same eligibility criteria as the current scheme for 3 and 4 year olds will continue to miss many of those families who need this the most, although making support for childcare costs in Universal Credit available up front is welcome.
It is welcome that the Government has also committed to working with local authorities to push them to do what they can and are encouraged to do already within existing guidance, including the statutory guidance on special guardianship. The children’s social care implementation strategy is clear that “we do not want local authorities and partners to feel the need to wait for permission to act now” and that local authorities should “feel confident to pursue approaches and ways of working that we know are the right ones”, including the provision of financial support for kinship carers. We would urge all local authorities to move towards providing kinship carers with a financial allowance in expectation of this becoming mandatory at a later date.
At a minimum interim step, the Government should mandate within the forthcoming kinship care strategy that all local authorities have an up-to-date, accessible and lawful policy on the provision of financial and other support for all kinship carers. Existing evidence on the provision of financial support for special guardians is clear that delivering a non-means tested allowance until the child reaches at least 18 makes sense and delivers good outcomes for families and for the local authority. This would help to reduce the unacceptable levels of variation and poor practice in financial support for special guardians and kinship carers, and ensure kinship carers in each local authority had a firm understanding of their rights and other support available to them, and could hold their local authorities to account more effectively.
The Government should also work with local authorities to ensure kinship carers can access the emergency financial support they need right now, particularly as the cost of living crisis continues to have a significant impact on families across the country. Our Breaking Point report found that 1 in 10 kinship households had run out of food and couldn’t afford to buy more in the last two weeks. Existing special guardianship guidance is very clear that “financial issues should not be the sole reason for a special guardianship arrangement failing to survive”. Whilst ongoing work to explore a financial allowance is crucial to deliver long-term financial security, too many families are in poverty today, and any mandated allowance wouldn’t be in place before the next Parliament. As such, the Government should consider additional targeted funding for kinship families and others supported by children’s social care services, particularly where there is an identified risk to permanence or of family breakdown.
Kinship care leave
The Government continues to “explore possible additional workplace entitlements” and encourages businesses to consider employment policies to support kinship carers.
What’s happening now?
Our #ValueOurLove campaign called on the Government to introduce paid kinship care leave so that kinship carers had a statutory right to leave from employment on a par with adoptive parents. The Government has not committed to this yet, but has said it will explore this in the context of other workplace entitlements too with the relevant Department(s).
This also follows the recommendation made by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care last year that paid leave on a par with adoption leave is introduced for special guardians and kinship carers with a child arrangements order where the child would otherwise be in care, along with a similar recommendation made by the House of Lords Children and Families Act 2014 Committee.
Stable Homes outlined the role of additional partners in delivering change for children and families, and suggested that “businesses can ask themselves whether they have employment policies in place to support kinship carers”. Kinship has been working with employers since last year to explore how kinship friendly policies could operate in different workplaces, and will be establishing a Kinship Friendly Employers scheme later this year. We have already seen large employers such as Tesco announce plans to introduce paid leave for their kinship carer employees.
What should happen next?
Our Forced Out report, published in June this year, highlights how a lack of paid leave and other workplace support is creating devastating consequences for families and for the state. 41% of kinship carers told us they had to leave work permanently, and a further 45% were forced to reduce their hours. A period of paid leave would not only allow carers to better support children and give them the time they need to settle into their new family environment, but would also create financial stability for kinship families and prevent carers from having to leave the labour market unnecessarily. It would also ensure vital nurses, teachers and support workers are kept active in our hospitals, schools and communities.
Policy development work on the introduction of a statutory right to paid leave on a par with adoption leave should continue at pace to better understand how implementation could work in practice given the often sudden and unexpected nature of kinship care, and considering delays before a legal order is often secured. The Department should commit to introducing this entitlement for kinship carers within the kinship care strategy.
Introducing kinship care leave would align extremely well with wider Government initiatives to support people with parental and caring responsibilities to remain in the workplace when they would like to, including the ‘day one’ right to request flexible working and the introduction of leave entitlements for other specific groups as specified in the 2023 Spring Budget. Plans were announced in the Autumn Statement 2023 to reform the ‘fit note’ process to increase the number of people in work, but given that kinship carers are more likely than parents and other groups raising children to be disabled or have long term sickness which prevents them from working, these changes risk financially penalising them and by extension their children.
Family Network Pilots should include testing of how local authorities can support kinship carers with navigating changes to their employment, such as compensating for lost hours at work and helping with securing more flexible working arrangements. This will be particularly important for informal kinship carers who do not have a legal order securing their family arrangement and may not benefit directly from future statutory entitlements to paid leave.
At Kinship, we will continue our work engaging with employers to develop our Kinship Friendly Employers scheme and encourage organisations to adopt paid leave and other supportive policies ahead of potential future rights for kinship carers, building on the success of early adopters such as Tesco. Many kinship carers who might not benefit from a statutory paid leave policy on a par with adoption leave would still be well-served by greater understanding of and support with other workplace entitlements, including the option of shorter periods of leave, altered working hours or more flexible working arrangements.
Training and support for kinship carers
The Government is investing in the delivery of a national offer of training and support for all kinship carers.
What’s happening now?
In Stable Homes, the Government committed to investing in the delivery of a national offer of support and training for all kinship carers, commencing from Spring 2024. This reflected a significant win for our #ValueOurLove campaign which called on the Government to equalise access to high-quality training and support between kinship carers and foster carers. It also followed a recommendation from the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care last year that all local authorities should develop peer support and training for all kinship carers.
After a competitive tender process, Kinship has been awarded a contract, worth £3m, by the Department for Education, to develop a training and support programme for kinship carers in England. This contract will see Kinship lead a national programme delivering online and in-person training, supported by resources on Kinship Compass, the information and advice hub for kinship carers that Kinship launched earlier this year.
The training and support programme will be co-designed alongside kinship carers and will be made available to all kinship carers in England regardless of legal order. It will provide kinship carers with preparatory support at the beginning of their kinship care journey, as well as options for ongoing support. Partners who will play a key role in working with Kinship and kinship carers to design and deliver online and offline sessions to support carers at different points of their kinship care journeys will include the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH), BookTrust, Anna Freud, Place2Be and Kinship Carers Liverpool.
What should happen next?
Delivery of a national programme of training and support should help to deliver consistent and high-quality help for kinship carers of all types, and reduce the current postcode lottery of provision. This is crucial as only 2 in 10 kinship carers told us they’d received any preparation support before or shortly after their child moved in, and nearly 8 in 10 said they weren’t getting the local authority support they needed to meet their child’s needs. Of those who had received local authority support, 25% rated this as ‘very poor’.
We’ll be sharing more details about the national training and support offer in due course and will be looking forward to working with local authorities across England. In the meantime, we encourage all children’s social care professionals to join our Professionals Network, and for Directors of Children’s Services and Managers of Children’s Social Care Services to get in touch to explore ways to work together.
In the meantime, local authorities should ensure they signpost to Kinship Compass and other sources of information and advice for kinship carers. Our Breaking Point report found that 35% of kinship carers rated the information provided about kinship care by their local authority as ‘very poor’, and only 7% had ever seen their authority’s ‘family and friends care policy’. The kinship care strategy and revised statutory guidance should clarify how local authorities must improve the information provided to kinship carers with urgency, so that kinship families of all types get the crucial early information they need to make informed decisions. This is important as, highlighted by Foundations in their recent survey of local authority support, “kinship carers may commit to care arrangements that limit their access to support without being aware of these implications”.
We look forward to hearing more from the Government about how it will invest the rest of the £9 million it committed for training and support for kinship carers within Stable Homes, as part of a comprehensive kinship care strategy which provides all kinship carers with the financial, practical and emotional support that truly values the love they give to children they step up to raise.
Access to legal aid
The Government is exploring “options for an extension of legal aid for carers with SGOs and CAOs”.
What’s happening now?
Despite a recommendation from the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care that legal aid is provided to kinship carers in a range of circumstances, the Government did not take the opportunity in its children’s social care implementation strategy to detail any specific extension. It did, however, commit to further exploring options for extending legal aid to special guardians and kinship carers with child arrangements orders.
From 1 May 2023, legal aid changes which extend eligibility for those pursuing special guardianship orders in private family law came into force following a commitment made by the Ministry of Justice in 2019.
What should happen next?
The Government should work closely with the Ministry of Justice and commit to further extending legal aid to a wider group of kinship carers in the kinship care strategy. This should be considered alongside, but not delayed by, the review of civil legal aid.
This should include reform to unlock independent legal advice for prospective kinship carers considering a legal order, funding for family and friends pursuing a legal order in either public or private law proceedings, and protection from costly litigation for existing kinship carers taken back to court by birth parents at a later date. Closing gaps in the provision of initial free and independnet advice and legal aid support between kinship carers involved in securing different legal orders across both public and private law is crucial; evidence shows how there is significant overlap with public law and local authority involvement within private law cases, but the support available to kinship families during and afterwards is often dictated by the legal arrangement and route taken.
These extensions would be strengthened further by ensuring kinship carers have a right to a role in legal proceedings where there is potential that they could become a kinship carer; the family justice system should recognise kinship carers in public and private care proceedings and seek to involve kinship carers and children in an accessible way, where appropriate, and consider how orders made in private family law could impact negatively on the resultant support available to carers and their children.
Stable Homes committed to delivering better support for parental engagement during proceedings; a similar commitment should be made for kinship carers too in addition to earlier commitments such as greater use of family group decision-making, which seek to “consider their voice and empower them to be involved in solutions with parents”. Engagement with wider family networks should continue throughout a family’s interaction with the local authority and family court; there will always be circumstances whereby a child cannot live with their parents and it is right that kinship carers continue to be supported and involved once care proceedings are initiated.
Additional legal aid entitlements should be non-means tested to ensure all kinship carers can make the best possible decisions in the interests of children and are not pushed into financial insecurity. Means testing can particularly penalise groups such as older kinship carers who may have some pension or other savings, or assets in the form of owned property they have spent years paying off a mortgage towards, but who have very low incomes and accessible capital with which to pay legal costs associated with becoming a kinship carer and establishing permanence for a child.
Support for children in kinship care
No specific commitments have been made by the Government to equalise support between children in kinship care and those in local authority care.
What’s happening now?
In its children’s social care implementation strategy, the Government did not make any commitments to extending rights or entitlements for children growing up in kinship care.
This was disappointing as equalising educational and other support between children in kinship care and children in local authority care is a key ask of our #ValueOurLove campaign, recognising that their needs and experiences are often similar. However, the implementation strategy did say the forthcoming national kinship care strategy will look at issues that were not raised by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, including “educational entitlements”.
In response to a recent recommendation from the House of Lords Children and Families Act 2014 Committee that the Government renames and undertakes a promotional campaign to increase take-up of the Adoption Support Fund by kinship carers, the Government confirmed it has no plans to rename this currently but has agreed more needs to be done to increasing the numbers of kinship families accessing support through the Fund. Currently, only special guardians or kinship carers with a child arrangements order where the child was previously looked after are eligible. Despite more children leaving care to special guardianship than adoption each year since 2019, successful applications for special guardianship families reflect only 13% of those across the entire Fund.
What should happen next?
In line with our #ValueOurLove campaign, the kinship care strategy should deliver new funded commitments to children growing up within different forms of kinship care, including extending eligibility for support from the Virtual School and designed teacher and for Pupil Premium Plus to include not only those formerly looked after, amending the Schools Admissions Code guidance to include priority status for children living in all forms of kinship care, and establishing a right to a mental health assessment on entry into kinship care to support quicker diagnosis and referral for support where required.
The Government should also explore the case for developing a bespoke version of the Adoption Support Fund that is designed specifically with kinship families in mind, recognising the unique nature of kinship care and respecting the different approaches often needed between adoptive and kinship families. This is vital given the urgent need to improve the support offered to kinship families to manage children’s social, emotional and behavioural difficulties; our Breaking Point report found that 12% of kinship carers worried about their ability to continue caring for their children, and 4 in 10 of those highlighted a lack of support for behavioural and mental health challenges as a reason for this concern.
Recent evaluation of the Adoption Support Fund found that both awareness levels and the extent to which the Fund was seen to have positively helped carers and their children were lower amongst special guardians than for adoptive parents. The Review of the Adoption Support Fund COVID-19 Scheme also suggested that “SGO families may need a different approach, particularly to marketing support for them”. A new fund should expand eligibility to include all kinship families, not just those secured with a legal order and where the child was previously in care, and also broaden the scope of available support to include non-therapeutic help where this would be of significant benefit to children and their carers. Above all, support for kinship families should take a ‘whole family’ approach which recognises and supports families as a unit – including birth children of the kinship carer, for example – to navigate the complexities and dynamics of the family as a whole.
Alongside the work covered above in ‘prioritising and supporting earlier kinship arrangements’, further research must be undertaken to better understand children in kinship care and their carers’ views on the support they would like and how this can be best offered, conscious of the unique position of kinship care and the perspectives of children on their identities and family life. Whilst the evidence suggests that many children in kinship care would benefit from improved access to support across health and education, the complex routes in and through kinship care – and the impact this has on children’s identity and families’ relationships with the local authority and other services – may not warrant an identical approach to provision and oversight as with other groups. Specific attention should also be paid to how best to support contact; although enduring family relationships can be one of the best things about kinship care, contact with parents can also be experienced as challenging, uncertain and potentially damaging for children and young people growing up in kinship care.
The Children’s Commissioner for England should have particular regard for all children in kinship care and work to uphold their rights. Whilst the provision of formalised independent advocacy may be appropriate for children in some situations (e.g. during care proceedings), given kinship children’s heightened risk of having their rights infringed and evidence of similar levels of adversity in childhood, there is a clear rationale for all children in kinship care to be given appropriate consideration by the Children’s Commissioner in the discharge of the role’s primary function. They are more likely to face significant vulnerabilities and to benefit from a statutory body who can ensure their rights are upheld and their voices considered in government policymaking.
Improving local authority practice
The Government plans to introduce new resources and reforms to support good social work practice within its National Framework, including working collaboratively with Ofsted.
What’s happening now?
As part of the new Children’s Social Care National Framework, the Government plans to introduce a set of Practice Guides which aim to set out the best evidenced approaches for achieving the outcomes set within the Framework, including Outcome 2: ‘Children and young people are supported by their family network’. They intend to distil evidence and make recommendations to help leaders and practitioners embed stronger and more culturally-aware practice. Development of the Practice Guides, alongside wider work on the National Framework, is overseen by the National Practice Group.
The Government also said within Stable Homes that it would work collaboratively with Ofsted to “improve the visibility of kinship care in their inspection reports”. Its subsequent response also commits to working closely with Ofsted to explore what changes to inspections and regulations across the sector are required to ensure they refelct new policy and drive improvement. The children’s social care implementation strategy notes that, whilst Ofsted does already capture some information on kinship care within their inspections, they will update their guidance and inspector training so that the quality of support being provided to kinship carers and their children is sufficiently addressed.
To ensure social workers have the skills and knowledge to implement planned reforms around kinship care and “feel confident to prioritise family-led solutions for children”, the Government is moving forward with its new Early Career Framework (ECF) for social workers in commissioning a number of Early Adopter local authorities and appointing an Expert Writing Group to write the framework of skills and knowledge. It will consult on the ECF document and explore national implementation from September 2026.
What should happen next?
Our Breaking Point report, based on the findings of our 2023 annual survey, found that, of those who had recevied support from their local authority, a quarter (25%) rated the quality of this as very poor. A recent survey of local authorities in England from Foundations has too revealed the legal and postcode lottery in support for kinship families and highlighted the need for the Government to clarify expectations of local authorities around kinship care within its forthcoming national strategy. This offers an opportunity to outline exactly the role for Government, local authorities and other partners in moving towards a new vision of kinship care as part of the wider children’s social care system, including the steps local authorities can take today and those longer term reforms which will be supported by Government.
The National Practice Group should be extended to include additional representation from those with expertise in kinship care, including from lived and professional experience, that matches the strength of the commitment to supporting family networks within the National Framework and in the Government’s response to the Stable Homes consultation.
The Government has noted that improving local authority practice will be one of the areas explored further within the kinship care strategy. This should be informed by the experience and expertise of kinship families, and align with further development work from the National Practice Group on the Early Career Framework and Practice Guides.
Practice Guides should be built on existing research and evidence in supporting kinship carers, such as work commissioned by the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board including ‘Key elements of a special guardianship support service’ and ‘Developing good practice in financially supporting special guardians’. They should also address some of the challenges highlighted by specialist social workers who practice in kinship care, especially given its unique mix of skills and knowledge which draw from elements of both child protection and mainstream fostering practice. This includes improving social workers’ delivery of high-quality support plans tailored to the unique needs of each child, and in offering advice or help with parental contact – this can be particularly difficult for kinship families to navigate given existing very complex and challenging family relationships and especially in the context of adversarial court processes.
Given the strategy’s commitment to “maintain a relentless focus on tackling delays in the family courts, with the ambition of getting back to the 26-week requirement for public law proceedings”, future guidance should reiterate the importance of effective social work completed before and during pre-proceedings so that safe, timely and good decisions are made for children and families.
Where these do not exist already, local authorities should consider establishing specialist kinship teams with the breadth of skills necessary to deliver high-quality social work support; this should be encouraged by Government through the National Framework and kinship care strategy. Many local authorities have already developed specialist teams who are delivering pioneering support for kinship carers, and Kinship and others offer existing forums which bring together professionals to share good practice and learn from each other.
Ofsted should look to significantly enhance the attention paid to kinship care practice and support within its inspections and undertake a thematic review of its inspection reports to support this work. It should consider establishing a separate judgement for kinship care within its inspection framework for local authority children’s services, similar to the recent (re)introduction of this for care leavers. Training should be delivered to inspectors to ensure they understand the unique nature of kinship care and can identify both poor and high-quality kinship family support.
Finally, as noted above, local authorities will struggle to deliver substantial change to their services, practices and cultures unless long term, sustainable investment is guaranteed by Government for the delivery of local authority children’s social care services. Work to ensure local authority leaders and the workforce better recognise and support kinship care should be accompanied by investment which provides local authorities with the financial stability they need to deliver reform and improvement plans.