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Kinship foster care

Understanding kinship foster care and what it means to be a ‘looked after child’

In England, if a child is described as a ‘looked after’ child it means that either:

  • Children’s services are providing the child with a place to live and with a carer. This might be with unrelated foster carers, or in residential care for example, or
  • A place to live and carer for the child has been arranged by children’s services. And is supported by children’s services. An example is a grandparent who has been assessed and approved by children’s services as a kinship foster carer for a child,
  • And sometimes it means children’s services are providing or arranging for a child to live in placement in which their parent is also present (for example, a mother and baby foster placement, a residential assessment unit, or with a family member who supervises the care provided by the parent).

If a child is looked after does it mean that there is a court order in place?

Not necessarily.

  • Some children in England enter or remain in the care system under a court order. This is because the Family Court has decided that is in their best interests. And that children’s services should have parental responsibility for them. These children are described as being ‘in care’.
  • But some children are looked after in the care system under a voluntary arrangement. It is an arrangement that can be put in place without any court oversight. This not a court order. And children’s services do not have parental responsibility for a child who is looked after under a voluntary arrangement. Children in voluntary arrangements are not described as being ‘in care’. Instead, they are described as ‘accommodated’ by children’s services. We use the term voluntary arrangement on these pages.

See our Children in care under court orders and our Children in the care system under voluntary arrangement (section 20) page for more information and advice.

Which children may be looked after in voluntary arrangement?

Only a child who is in need may become looked after under a voluntary arrangement.

There are many different situations which may lead to a child becoming looked after under a voluntary arrangement. It may be that there is no one to care for them. Or, if a family is struggling, a parent with parental responsibility may ask for their child to come to come into the care system under a voluntary arrangement for a time.

What duties do children’s services have to protect and support children who are looked after in the care system?

Children’s services departments are under a general legal duty to keep any child who is looked after in the care system safe and well cared for (see section 22(3) of the Children Act 1989). This duty applies to any child who is ‘in care’ under a court order. And it also applies to children looked after in the care system under voluntary arrangements. It is a duty that applies whatever the reason a child has become looked after.

There are a range of things children’s services must do to as part of keeping to this duty. Including making sure the views of parents (and other important family members) are gathered and are taken into account when any key decisions are being made about their child (see section 22(4)and(5) of the Children Act 1989).

Open or download this table to see the main duties children’s services have when any child is looked after in the care system. The table describes:

  • Each legal duty
  • Whether the duty applies to children looked after under a court order- children who ‘in care’
  • Whether the duty applies to children looked after in a voluntary arrangement
  • Where the duty can be found.

See our Children in care under court orders and our Children in the care system under voluntary arrangements (section 20) page for more information about the duties children’s services have to looked after children.

What about when a child leaves kinship foster care? Will they get support?

Children looked after in kinship foster care (like those in unrelated foster care) are entitled to leaving care support. This includes children’s services maintaining a former fostering arrangement after the young person has reached age 18 and access to ongoing support from a personal adviser. For further information about this see our advice sheet: 4b) Children’s services duties to young people leaving care.

Urgent situations, temporary kinship foster care and full assessment

Does someone have to be assessed to see if they are going to be able to care for a child as a kinship foster carer?

It is possible for a relative or friend to be approved as a foster carer on a temporary basis. But some basic checks have to be done first. This allows a child to be placed in their care immediately. It can help to avoid a child needing to spend time in unrelated foster care first.

A full assessment of the kinship carer must be conducted within 16 weeks of the child moving to their care. This may be extended for a further eight weeks in exceptional circumstances).

The powers that children’s services have to approve someone as a foster carer on a temporary basis come from regulation 24 of The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010.

When can children’s services grant someone temporary approval as a foster carer?

This is explained in government regulations called The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010.

The regulations say that someone can be given temporary approval as a foster carer as long as children’s services:

  • Believe the child coming to live with that person is the most appropriate placement and the best way to keep the child safe and meet their needs (see regulation 24(1)(a))
  • Believe it can’t wait until the full assessment is completed (see regulation 24(1)(b))
  • Check the suitability of the person (including their home and the suitability of any who is over 18 and is in the household (see regulation 24(2))
  • Obtain as much information about the person and their home as they can. There is a detailed checklist that children’s services should work through – see next dropdown What information should children’s services take into account when looking at temporary approval of someone as a foster carer?)
  • Arrange to start the full fostering assessment as soon as they have granted temporarily approval.

What information should children’s services take into account when looking at temporary approval of someone as a foster carer?

There is list of things that children’s services should take into account when looking at whether to approve someone as a temporary foster carer. Children’s services must find out as much of this information as they can before placing the child.  The full list is in schedule 4 of The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010. It includes these things:

  • Asking about any criminal convictions and any convictions their family members have
  • Beginning criminal record checks with the Disclosure and Barring Service (these don’t have to be complete before the child is placed with the temporary foster carer)
  • Finding out the child’s wishes and feelings about coming to live with that person
  • Getting the views of the child’s parents and others with parental responsibility
  • Looking at the quality of the relationship the person already has with the child
  • Thinking about how the potential carer will meet the child’s individual needs (for example their health needs, their education needs)
  • Thinking about how the potential carer will keep the child safe from harm
  • Getting some background information, including about the family and about employment
  • Looking at the physical environment of the home the child would be living in. This includes the space that is available for the child
  • Thinking through what additional help or equipment might be needed
  • Considering who else lives in the household, and what their personal relationships are like
  • Finding out the views of children and young people already living with the person being assessed and how the placement would affect those children.

If children’s services haven’t been able to find out all the information from the list before placing the child, they must do this as quickly as possible afterwards.

What if children’s services say there isn’t enough time to look at approving a relative or friend as a temporary foster carer and placing the child with them?

Sometimes children’s services departments tell families and potential carers they can’t place children with relatives or friends in an emergency. They say there is too much information to collect before the child can be placed. This is not correct.

Government regulations and guidance make clear that children’s services:

  • Do not have to collect everything set out in the regulations as being the information children’s services should take into account. But they do have to collect as much good quality information as they can. This includes the information about the potential carers relationship with the child
  • Do not have to wait for the outcome of the formal criminal record check from the Disclosure and Barring Service This is because this can take some time to obtain. But, they must still ask about criminal convictions (see paragraph 5.5 of the Family and Friends Care: Statutory Guidance for local authorities)

But children’s services do have to:

  • Be clear about why the child has to be placed straight away, without waiting for a full assessment to be done
  • Find out what the child’s wishes and feelings are about moving to stay with the temporary foster carer. And what the parents think about the placement.

If someone is approved as a temporary foster carer is a full fostering assessment needed? When should a full assessment begin?

If someone is approved as a temporary foster carer and the child is placed with them then it is essential the full fostering assessment starts straightaway. This is because temporary approval only lasts 16 weeks (see regulation 24 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010).

See the next dropdowns for more information about this timescale and when it may be extended.

What will happen if someone has not been fully assessed and approved as a kinship foster carer within 16 weeks of temporary approval being given?

If the full assessment cannot be completed in time, then approval can be extended for eight weeks in exceptional circumstances. There can be no further extension beyond this though.

If an extension if granted, it means children’s services will have had a total of 24 weeks to complete a full assessment and deal with approval. If full, long term approval of a foster carer isn’t in place by then, the child will need to be moved.

The law about this can be found in regulation 25 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010.

What if someone is not approved within the extended 24-week period?

Government regulations says in this situation children’s services should move the child from the placement with the kinship foster carer. The child should be moved to another approved placement. See regulation 25(6) of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010. If:

  • There is a care order in place, children’s services would have the right to move the child
  • If there is no care order, they children’s services will need to apply for a care order unless a person with parental responsibility agrees to the move (and no one else with parental responsibility who is able to object, does)
  • If care proceedings are ongoing before the Family Court, moving the child will be a change to the interim care plan that the court has approved for the child. If there is going to be a change to this interim plan, the Family Court should be informed before any change in placement happens. Children’s services should do this, but so too can others involved in the case.

What support can someone who is approved as a temporary foster carer get?

Once someone is approved as a temporary kinship foster carer, they are entitled to receive the same support children’s services give to unrelated foster carers. This includes the same rate of fostering allowance as unrelated foster carers. See our Financial support for kinship foster carers section for more information and advice about this.

Once the child is placed, a social worker visits once a week until the child’s first looked after review. And after that, they will visit at least once every four weeks.

A kinship foster carer will be asked to sign a foster carer agreement. This should describe how they will work with children’s services. It should describe children’s services placement procedures and the support and training they will provide the carer with.

What if children’s services do not start the full fostering assessment after temporary approval has been granted?

In this situation it is very important to ask children’s services to start the assessment urgently. If they do not respond to the request, this can be challenged using the council complaints procedure.  See our Complaints page for information and advice about this.

If care proceedings are ongoing, the Family Court should be notified of the delay. All parties involved in the care proceedings have a responsibility to let the court know if there has been a delay with assessment work. The kinship carer waiting for the full assessment to begin can also write to the court about this. This can be done even if they are not themselves involved in the case as a party to the proceedings. If they are in contact with the child’s parents, they can ask them to raise the concern with their own solicitor too.

What if a child is already looked after in the care system? Can a relative or friend still be assessed as a kinship foster carer?

Yes. If a child is already looked after in the care system, then children’s services have a legal duty to place the child with people in a certain priority order. This duty is in section 22C of the Children Act 1989 and says children’s services should:

  1. See if a child can be safely cared for by their parent(s). If not, then
  2. See if a child be safely cared for by someone else who holds parental responsibilityfor them
  3. Next look at anyone who was caring for the child under a child arrangements order just before they came into the care system.
  4. Next, look to place the child in the most appropriate placement looking first at  wider family, friends and other people already connected with the child who are already approved by children’s services as foster carers
  5. Only where this is not possible, should children’s services go on to arrange for a child to live with unrelated carers. This could be foster care, or if not possible then in residential care (a children’s home).

This duty means that:

  • Plans for where a child lives/who they are cared for should always be kept under review
  • So, even if a child in looked after in the care system by an unrelated carer, children’s services this should regularly review this. If a family member who may be able to care for the child comes forward, this should be explored
  • Where a child is looked after and children’s services do arrange for the child to be cared for by a family member, friend or other person who is connected to the child that person must be assessed and approved by children’s services as a foster carer for the child.

Otherwise:

  • The placement of the child with that relative or friend will be unlawful and
  • Children’s services may need to assess the carer as a temporary kinship foster carer. This is so the child to be placed with them immediately.

See the Types of kinship care arrangement section.

If a grandparent (or other relative) finds out their grandchild is already in the care system what can they do to urgently get the child to live with them instead?

It might be that children’s services  did not know about you when your grandchild first came into care. Or perhaps they did not have time to contact you because it was an emergency.

Whatever the precise situation it is important to urgently:

  • Contact children’s services or the particular social worker straight away and to
  • Let them know you would like to care for your granddaughter.

They will want to do an assessment before they agree she can live with you. But a quick assessment can be done to give temporary approval as a foster carer. This will mean the child will be able to move quickly, if this is in their best interests.

If the arrangement is to continue in the longer term a full fostering assessment will need to be done.

What happens if children’s services refuse to assess or approve someone as a temporary kinship foster carer? What other options are there?

  • Challenging the refusal to assess by making a formal complaint if the process or the decision made is unfair – see our Complaints page
  • If the child is subject of care proceedings, the refusal to assess (or approve) can be raised with the Family Court
  • Challenge the refusal to approve (if the assessment has been done but the outcome was negative)
  • Apply for a child arrangements order (saying she should live with you) or
  • Or apply for a special guardianship order but, a notice period applies before you can make the application.

For more information and advice:

What does full assessment as a kinship foster carer involve? And what happens if the carer is not approved as foster carer?

We have written an advice sheet about this.  See 2g) Becoming a kinship foster carer: the process on our Advice sheets page. The advice sheet explains:

  • The process of being assessed and approved as a kinship foster carer
  • Information about what happens when someone becomes a kinship foster carer (including the support they should receive from children’s services)
  • What options someone has if they are not approved as kinship foster carers.

What are the alternatives to being a kinship foster carer?

The advantages and disadvantages of becoming a foster carer will be different for each individual. Some questions to help explore thoughts and feelings about becoming a foster carer are below. These questions may be helpful for anyone who is already a foster carer and thinking about whether to continue.

When asking these questions a good place to start is with:

Private arrangement vs kinship foster care: disputes with children’s services

When is an arrangement a private family arrangement and when is it kinship foster care? What does the law say?

The law says that:

  1. If children’s services play a major role in making the arrangements for the child, the most likely conclusion is that children’s services is exercising its powers and duties to look after the child under section 20(1)(c) of the Children Act 1989
  2. If children’s services are instead simply assisting in arranging informal family care rather, then they must be explicit with those involved about that
  3. This includes giving clear information about who will be financially responsible for the child. Only if on receipt of such information can a potential kinship foster carer give informed consent to accept the child on an informal family care arrangement instead

This law comes from important cases heard in the Court or Appeal. The cases are:

  • London Borough of Southwark v D [2007] EWCA Civ 182 and
  • R (SA) v Kent County Council [2011] EWCA Civ 1303.

It can be helpful to remind children’s services about these court decisions. And that what the court said in these cases has been applied by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) when dealing with complaints.  This includes an important complaint against Liverpool City Council and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (complaints no. 12 006 209 and 15 018 561).

How can kinship carers use all that information to challenge children’s services if they are refusing to accept that the carer is a kinship foster carer and refusing to accept the child is a looked after child?

We have put together some template letters that kinship carers in this situation may want to use. They are on our Top Tips and templates page:

  • Letter 4 – this is a letter to help kinship carers to request:
    • To be assessed as a kinship foster carer for a child already in their care and
    • Payment of a foster care allowance.
  • Letter 5 – this letter can be used to make a formal complaint where children’s services have made a decision that: the carer is not a kinship foster carer, the child not ‘looked after’ and fostering allowance will not be paid. It can be used where children’s services say a private family arrangement is in place.
  • Letter 6 – kinship foster carers can use this letter to complain to children’s services about not being paid an allowance at the National Minimum Fostering Allowance rate.

The letters can all be adapted to your personal circumstances. They have blank spaces so family members can fill in:

  • Their own details
  • The details of the child (or children) and
  • The details of the children’s services department involved before sending the letter.

Financial support for kinship foster carers

If a social worker is involved in placing a child with a relative or friend, that kinship carer may be entitled to be treated as a foster carer. This may be very helpful in terms of getting help (including financial help) to look after the child.

We recommend that anyone in this position seek legal advice, to make sure they are getting all the support they are entitled to. This could be from a specialist children law solicitor or from Family Rights Group. Details of how to seek legal advice are included at the end of this page

Should a kinship foster carer receive financial support from the child’s parents?

No. The child is a looked after child and the kinship carer will received financial support as a local authority foster carer.

What financial support should a kinship foster carer receive?

Anyone who is approved as a kinship foster carer should receive a fostering allowance for the looked after child in their care. This applies whether the kinship foster carer:

  • Is caring for the child under a court order (such as an interim or final care order, or an emergency protection order)
  • Is caring for the child under a voluntary arrangement under section 20 of the Children Act 1989
  • Has temporary approval as a foster carer
  • Has been fully assessed and approved as a foster carer.

How much is fostering allowance?

The law says that kinship foster carers should receive the standard fostering allowance paid in the local area. The fostering allowance should be at least as much as the government’s National Minimum Fostering Allowance. The current National Minimum Fostering Allowance can be checked here.

The ‘Manchester’ judgment is an important case about this. The case of R (on the application of X) v LB Tower Hamlets [2013] EWHC 480 (Admin) is another important case on this topic.

And government statutory guidance also makes clear this is how fostering allowance should be approached.  See paragraph 4.49 and 4.50 Family and Friends Care: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities.

What if a kinship foster carer is being paid less than the National Minimum Fostering allowance rate?

If someone has been accepted as being a kinship foster carer but if being paid less than the national minimum fostering allowance rate they can write to children’s services to:

  • Make a complaint
  • Ask for a written explanation for not being paid at the national minimum level
  • Ask for the rate of allowance to be immediately increased
  • Ask for a lump sum to reflect the underpayment to date

Letter 6 on our Top tips and templates page may be helpful to use. Kinship foster carers can use this letter to complain to children’s services about not being paid an allowance at the National Minimum Fostering Allowance rate. The letter can be adapted to the specific situation and includes blank spaces to enter personal details.

The allowance should be paid from the date the child was placed with the carer. If the allowance was not paid, it should be backdated.

If a kinship carer does not receive their backdate allowance. Or is refused a fostering allowance they can consider making a complaint. See our Complaints page for more information and advice about the complaints process.

Does a kinship foster carer have a right to parental leave?

Kinship foster carers are not eligible for parent leave. But they may still be able to ask for a flexible working pattern. For further information about flexible working see www.gov.uk/flexible-working.

Further information and advice options:

  • See our advice sheets 2g) Becoming a kinship foster carer on our Advice sheets page – this includes advice sheets on welfare benefits for kinship carers and the education system
  • See our Why? pages. These aim to provide information about some of the most common reasons children and families become involved with children’s services and the Family Court. Topics include domestic abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, adult mental ill-health. There is information and advice about children with disabilities, children with special educational needs. And information about child mental ill-health
  • Post a question on our Kinship Carers Forum and receive advice from one of Family Rights Group’s expert advisers
  • If needing further or more detailed advice, call Family Rights Group’s specialist legal and practice advice line on 0808 801 0366 (the advice line is open Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am to 3 pm excluding bank holidays)
  • Find a solicitor who is a specialist in children law. Or who has Children Law Accreditation. To find a solicitor, search using the ‘how to find a solicitor’ function on the Law Society website. See our Working with a solicitor guide on our Top tips and templates page for more information about finding and working with a solicitor.

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