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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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Kinship care

What is kinship care?

Kinship care is any situation in which a child is being raised in the care of a friend or family member who is not their parent. The arrangement may be temporary or longer term. Kinship carers can be grandparents, uncles, aunts, older brothers and sisters or other adults who have a connection to the child, such as neighbours or family friends. Kinship carers are sometimes called family and friends carers.

There are more children in kinship care than there are adopted or in the care system. There are many different reasons that a child may be cared for by a family member or friend.

These pages provide an easy-to-follow guide to kinship care in England. They are for kinship carers and anyone thinking about becoming a kinship carer. They include information on the different types of kinship care arrangement and the law that relates to them.

Watch a vlog with our chief executive explaining more about kinship care.

Understanding kinship care

These first four FAQs explain some core information about kinship care and kinship carers.

Are there different types of kinship care arrangement?

Yes and the type of arrangement affects:

  • What practical and financial support is available to the carer and child
  • The extent of support likely to be provided and
  • Who has parental responsibility and can make decisions about the child.

This means it is very important for families to have the right information and advice about kinship care. Our Types of kinship care arrangement section explains more about this.

The law about kinship care

Exploring kinship care: duties, family group conferences, initial assessments, care proceedings

The six FAQs below explain how kinship care options can be explored for children.

Types of kinship care arrangement

There are different types of kinship care arrangement. The type of arrangement affects:

  • What practical and financial support is available to the carer and child
  • The extent of support likely to be provided and
  • Who has parental responsibility and can make decisions about the child.

This means it is very important for families to have the right information and advice about kinship care.

Click on the dropdowns below for brief information about each:

1. Private family arrangements

A close family member who does not hold parental responsibility, raises the child and

  • The local authority has had no major role in making the arrangement for the child; and
  • Matters have not been considered by the Family Court.

2. Private fostering

Someone who is not a close relative of the child and is not already approved as a foster carer looks after the child for 28 days or more (as per section 66(1)(a) and (b) of the Children Act 1989).

3. ‘Lives with’ child arrangements order

Under this court order the child will live with the kinship carer named in the order and the carer will share parental responsibility with the parents.

4. Special guardianship

A special guardianship order is a court order that says a child will live permanently with someone (who is not their parent) until they are 18. A special guardianship order gives the special guardian ‘enhanced’ parental responsibility for the child. This gives them the authority to make all major decisions about the child’s upbringing and care. The order restricts the birth parents’ rights but does not permanently end them.

5. Kinship foster care

Sometimes a kinship care arrangement involves a child becoming looked after by children’s services. But with the child living with a relative or friend who becomes a foster carer for them. This might be under a care order, or under a voluntary arrangement. The carer is known as a kinship foster carer.

6. Adoption

Adoption is unusual in kinship care arrangements because it changes the legal relationship with the child’s parents. They legally cease to be the child’s parents.

7. What is a testamentary guardian?

A testamentary guardian is someone who is:

  • Appointed by a child’s parent(s) or special guardians in writing to look after their child after they die, and
  • The parents/special guardians have now died, and
  • The appointment has taken effect.

The appointment will often be in a written Will, but not always.

The blocks below provide more detailed advice and information about each type of kinship care arrangement.

For an overview of all the types of arrangement and the differences between them open or download our Types of kinship care arrangement – quick reference table.

Common questions family and friends have about kinship care

If you haven’t yet found the information you are looking for about kinship care, you may find these six questions useful.

Ukrainian children in kinship care

Kinship care and support with education

Kinship care and the benefits system

When a relative or friend takes on the care of a child who cannot live with their parents, they may need financial information and support. This includes what benefits they can claim. Someone thinking about becoming a kinship carer may want information about benefits as part of deciding what type of kinship care arrangement will be best. Our advice sheet 2h) Welfare benefits for kinship carers is a good place to start. It provides a detailed introduction to benefits and tax credits in England and how to access these. We have also prepared some quick reference tables explaining the types of benefit and tax credits available in different types of kinship care arrangement – these tables are available to open or download here.

Special guardianship and the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund: Therapeutic support services

Children cared for by Special Guardians may well have experienced serious difficulties that led to their placement. They may need additional help and support so they can thrive.

The Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund pays for a range of therapeutic support for adopted children and their adoptive family. Since 2016 it can also be used to pay for therapeutic support for children cared for by special guardians who are eligible. The fund is continuing until the end of March 2025.

Who is eligible?

Below we explain three different situations in which someone is eligible to be assessed for therapeutic services paid for by the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund. 

  1. Situation one:

    I can answer ‘yes’ to all three of these statements:

  • The child I have a special guardianship order (SGO) for was in the care system immediately before I obtained the SGO, and  
  • That child is struggling to cope and needs support and/or my household needs support to help the child I have an SGO for, and 
  • The child is 21 or younger or the child is 25 and has a Statement of Special Educational Needs or an Education, Health and Care Plan. 
  1. Situation two:

    If a child left care under a ‘lives with’ child arrangements order (CAO) for the purpose of you being assessed as a special guardian for them then, that child: 

  • Is eligible to be assessed for therapeutic services paid for by the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund whilst that child arrangements order is in force 
  • Remains eligible if a special guardianship order (SGO) is subsequently (later) made. 
  1. Situation three:

    I have a special guardianship order (SGO) but:

  • The child I have the SGO for left my home under a section 20 voluntary arrangement (sometimes called voluntary accommodation or just ‘section 20and  
  • The child has a care plan that includes an intention to return back to my home or 
  • The child is 16 or over and has a care plan that includes an intention for them to move into independent living arrangements. 

How can I get help?

You will need to have an assessment of your family’s support needs by a social worker from the children’s services department in your local authority (council).

Where the assessment identifies that the therapeutic services funded by the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund would be beneficial to your family, the local authority will apply to the Fund on your behalf. The Fund will then release funding to the local authority. The local authority will then use the funding to commission and pay the agreed provider of services.

There is a Fair Access Limit of £5,000 per child for therapy. This is as well as a separate amount of up to £2,500 per child if specialist assessments are needed per financial year. Further information about this can be found here.

The local authority social worker is expected to talk to you about who can provide the types of service that you need and which provider you would prefer.

How does the local authority get funds?

The social worker’s assessment and recommendations for services must be approved by a designated manager in the local authority. Designated means the manager who has responsibility for accessing the fund.

Once the social worker’s assessment and recommendations have been approved , the social worker applies to the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund for funding.

Applications are normally successful provided that:

  1. The application confirms that you meet the eligibility criteria
  2. The recommended services have been approved by the local authority to meet national quality and safety standards
  3. The application form has been completed correctly.
    Applications are usually processed within 20 working days.

All identifying information about you must be excluded from the application form. This is because it is information that is confidential between you and the local authority.

The Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund notifies the social worker who applied for funding (within 10 working days) and the social worker should then let you know the decision. If the application is successful, the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund sends the money to the local authority who pays the provider for the agreed services.

You can then get the service you and your family need. Please note that there may be waiting lists for some local services.

What type of services can the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund provide money for?

The Fund will provide money for a range of therapeutic type services that are identified to help your child achieve the following positive outcomes:

  • Improved relationships with friends, family members, teachers, and school staff
  • Improved engagement with learning
  • Improved emotional and behaviour management
  • Improved confidence and ability to enjoy a positive family life and social relationships

Specialist Assessment that meets all the criteria below:

  • An in-depth assessment of the child and family’s needs with a focus on trauma and attachment, and how this demonstrates the links to the assessment of support needs.
  • Led and undertaken by a qualified clinician(s).
  • For the purposes of the ASF, a qualified clinician would be someone who diagnoses and treats patients; is suitably qualified and is licensed to practice via a regulator such as the Health and Care Professional Council e.g. a trained Clinical Psychologist or Psychotherapist.
  • Result in a therapeutic support plan for the child(ren) / family.

The following are not in scope of the Fund:

  • Standalone assessments for single conditions, e.g. ADHD, FASD, autism, sensory integration, unless they are part of a wider specialist assessment which meets the criteria for the Specialist Assessment FAL i.e. are in depth, covering trauma and attachment, led and undertaken by a qualified clinician and resulting in a therapeutic support plan.
  • Standalone specialist assessments, including any baselining specialist assessments, are also out of scope of the Therapy Fair Access Limit.
  • A general social work assessment of adoption/SGO support needs remains the responsibility of the local authority/regional adoption agency.

To achieve these outcomes the Fund will pay for therapeutic support and services including but not restricted to those listed below. Some of the services may be provided through the NHS, some by the local authority and others by independent providers. The exact range of services available will vary for each local authority, depending upon which services are available locally that meet relevant quality standards.

  • Parenting training – evidence-based parenting courses adapted to meet the needs of Adopters or Special Guardians.
  • Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy.
  • Theraplay– a child and family therapy to build attachment and the parent-child relationship based on directed play and activities.
    Filial therapy – very similar to Theraplay and always involving the parent/carer.
  • Creative therapies e.g. art, music, drama, play. Music therapy and Art therapy can help children from complex and traumatic backgrounds in a range of ways. It can help to increase concentration and attention skills, improve family and social relationships and increase a child’s confidence.
  • Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR). A psychological treatment method which stimulates the brain to reduce the intensity of distressing memories.
  • Non-Violent Resistance (NVR). A psychological approach for overcoming destructive, aggressive, controlling and risk-taking behaviour.
  • Sensory integration therapy/sensory attachment therapy aims to help the child re-organise or re-process sensory information in order to regulate emotional responses. Individual sensory integration therapy is provided as direct one-to-one therapy, following a specialist assessment by an Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist or Speech and Language Therapist with postgraduate training in sensory integration.
  • Multi Systemic Therapy (MST) – involves working closely with families, providing intensive therapy that focuses on problem solving. It aims to give parents problem-solving skills to deal with their issues. Families receive 24-hour support from a therapist, and a range of agencies work in partnership to support them over a three to five-month period.
  • Psychotherapy – by a qualified and registered psychotherapist.
  • Specialist clinical assessments where required to identify therapeutic needs.
  • Extensive life story work with a therapeutic intervention (where therapy is used to help the young person understand and cope with the trauma and difficulties that their life story work might revisit).
  • Short Breaks are in scope where they include a substantial element of eligible therapeutic therapies.

The Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund now runs until the end of March 2025. Will the support I receive end then?

The Department for Education has said the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund will continue until the end of March 2025.

How do I find out who to contact in my local authority to get an assessment?

Unfortunately, your local authority’s website may not have clear information about this. As a first step, try asking the social worker who has worked with you to get the SGO.

In some local authorities the Adoption and Permanence Team in children’s services lead on getting the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund for Special Guardians. In other local authorities it is the Family and Friends Care designated officer. And other local authorities may have their own arrangements.

Where we have the information on who to contact, we have provided links on our website here.

Where we don’t have the information, we have provided a template letter for you to send to the Director of Children’s Services of your local authority to request an assessment. They should pass your letter on to the person with responsibility for these assessments in your local authority, and they should reply to you to tell you who they have asked to deal with your request.

I am sure I am eligible, but my local authority says I am not - so they won’t do an assessment. What can I do?

The eligibility criteria are quite complicated. The Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund is not available to Special Guardians whose child was not looked after in the care system.

There is more detailed information about the eligibility criteria in the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund website.

If you have checked the eligibility criteria and believe you are eligible then you could complain to your local authority. For information about how to do this see our Complaints page.

Why won’t the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund pay for the basics?

The Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund is for therapeutic type support. But you should have also been assessed for a special guardianship allowance. If you are having problems with getting that allowance, or are having deductions made from it that should not be made (e.g. child benefit) you should complain to children’s services. Letter 6 on our Top tips and templates page can help you do this. .

There are also a range of services, not funded by the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund, that the local authority must ensure are available to Special Guardians. See our advice sheet 2e) Practical and financial support for special guardians for more information and advice about this. And if these services are not available in your local authority area you could complain using our template letter here.

You can also look at our Kinship Carers Forum to see how others in similar situations are coping and register to start a thread yourself.

I haven’t got the special guardianship order yet. But it is on its way. Can I have the funding now?

The local authority can apply before the SGO is made, provided that all the eligibility criteria are met. However, funds will only be released to pay for agreed services when the SGO is in place.

I’ve had an assessment. But the social worker says we don’t need funded local services. What are my options?

The current range of services that might be available to you in your local authority area may be limited. The local authority must provide a range of services to meet the needs of Special Guardians. We have provided a template letter to help you to complain and to challenge the services available locally. Make sure you put all your questions in writing and keep copies of your questions and any responses you get. If this does not work, you could consider making a complaint. For more information see our Complaints page.

You can also look at our Kinship Carers Forum to see how others in similar situations are coping. Or to register to start a thread yourself.

The child I care for under a special guardianship order was not born in England. Can I still get the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund?

Yes, if you meet the eligibility criteria and you are living in England.

Further useful information, advice, and support for kinship carers

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