This report summarises the findings from a survey of 80 local authorities in England, mapping the different types of support provided by local authorities (LAs) to kinship carers: family members and friends who care for children when their parents are unable to. The report is supplemented by an annex detailing the full of the survey. The survey aimed to improve understanding of variation in support for kinship carers, and focused on the following types of arrangement: family and friends foster care, Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs), and Child Arrangement Orders (CAOs)/Residence Orders (ROs).
Despite the range of resources advising LAs on providing support to kinship carers, available guidance leaves scope for variation in the type and extent of support they offer. The lack of a uniform model or approach to providing this support means that access to support can vary depending on both the area a kinship carer lives in as well as their specific kinship arrangement.
The overarching aim of this project was to map the extent of variation in support for kinship carers both across LAs and types of kinship care arrangements to aid identification of promising interventions that have the potential to be evaluated for impact. Another aim of this project is to shed light on the support provided to specific groups of kinship carers, such as kinship carers involved in informal kinship care arrangements and kinship carers from minoritised ethnic backgrounds who face additional challenges.
This project used three data collection methods:
- Survey: we sent a survey to all 153 English local authorities which covered a range of topics related to support for kinship carers in their area. Eighty responses were received, representing 52% of all LAs in England
- Interviews: we conducted 35 semi-structured interviews with practitioners from LAs who responded to the survey
- Round tables: we held three round tables with a total of 31 kinship carers to discuss their personal experiences of receiving support from LAs. One round table was virtual, with the other two being conducted in person in Bradford and London.
Our study found that there is significant variation in the support that kinship carers receive, both across LAs as well as across different kinship care arrangements.
Across different areas, support tends to be highest for Family and Friends Foster Carers, followed by Special Guardians, with the least support provided to kinship carers on a Child Arrangements Order (CAO/RO). Within Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) and CAO/RO arrangements, support is more common if the child has previously been looked after by the LA.
The topics covered by the study are wide-ranging. The report discusses findings related to: service structure; panel process; financial support (ongoing and once-off), legal support training; emotional/therapeutic support; support for managing contact; support to help prevent breakdown of arrangements; information provision; support for minoritised ethnic kinship families; and support for informal kinship care arrangements.
Implications for future research
This is a foundational piece of research, mapping current support for kinship carers and revealing high levels of variation between LAs and across kinship care arrangements. Understanding existing service provision is a key step to further research into which types of support are most effective. We aim for this study to be a catalyst for further research and knowledge generation to ensure that carers receive effective support so that children can thrive in kinship care.
Subsequent steps are needed for future robust evaluations of LA support for kinship carers. Key information such as eligibility criteria, take-up rates, and when support was introduced has not yet been systematically gathered. Furthermore, the voices of minoritised ethnic and informal kinship carers should be prioritised and amplified in future research and policy work. While this report has illuminated some findings regarding LA practices for these groups, we know very little about their experiences.