Kinship care and the unseen children’s champions

Author: Dr Lucy Peake, CEO of Kinship
Her Royal Highness with kinship carers
Her Royal Highness with kinship carers

You may not be familiar with the term, but kinship care is not new. There have always been grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and family friends stepping up to raise children when their parents aren’t able to.

We see them outside our schools, we hear about them from our hairdressers, we may know some. There are over 162,000 children growing up in kinship care in England and Wales, more than double the number in foster care.

But for the most part, kinship carers have gone about the complicated business of raising their grandchildren or niece or younger brother, investing their energies, skills and livelihoods into creating safe and stable homes for the children that need them, whilst remaining unnamed, unrecognised, and undervalued.

For those who may be new to the term, a kinship carer is anyone raising the child of a relative or friend. Some will have court orders like a Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangement Order, some may, officially, be the child’s foster carer, while others will be doing so informally. Roughly half are grandparents and the majority of kinship carers are women.

Kinship care begins in crisis. Parental bereavement, addiction issues, domestic abuse or criminal convictions are some of the reasons a family member or friend might be approached about taking in a child, sometimes with very little time to decide or prepare. They may have a home already filled to the brim with their own children, they may have planned not to have kids, or they may have assumed their parenting days were long behind them. Nevertheless, most people step up, for the sake of a child they love and when they do, their lives are, of course, turned upside down.

All children need love and stability to thrive and develop, but for those children who have had a really difficult start in life, through loss and trauma, this love and stability is vital. Kinship carers provide love, continuity and stability for children who have likely experienced such trauma and may have complex mental or physical health needs.

Kinship care plays a critical role in enabling children to develop long-lasting relationships with people who love them, and according to research, well-supported kinship care leads to better outcomes for children compared to those in the care system. Kinship carers usually continue to love and support the children in their care into early adulthood and beyond.

Despite the prevalence of kinship care, many kinship families feel invisible, finding very few people understand their situation, or the complexities of the needs of their children. Relationships with partners or friends can break down, making it even harder for them to receive the emotional support they need to manage the huge task ahead of them.

This is why providing specialised support for kinship carers is so important. Kinship is the leading kinship care charity in England and Wales. Our local support workers, expert advice service, peer support groups, free workshops, training courses and independent, online information hub Kinship Compass, provide specialist support for more than 10,000 kinship families each year.

Peer support is particularly key to wellbeing for kinship families. Research shows that kinship carers who attend peer support groups benefit from emotional support, practical advice from other kinship carers and a sense of belonging and connection. Providing kinship carers with practical and emotional support and giving them the space to prioritise their own wellbeing, enables them to provide safe, stable and loving homes for the children they are raising.

At Kinship, we believe that when kinship carers come together their strength, expertise and energy is unleashed. That is why we connect kinship families through our community of campaign groups and peer support groups, amplifying their voices as they create a better world for children growing up in kinship care.

Kinship’s vision is a society in which kinship carers and the children they care for are recognised, valued and supported. I am pleased to tell you that it does feel like the tide is finally beginning to turn for the nation’s kinship carers. The sacrifices they are making and the roles they are playing in the lives of children are beginning to make their way into the spotlight and my hope is that a focus on kinship care will translate into a wealth of support, training, community and advice, so that no kinship carer feels alone in the challenge they have taken on. Every child growing up in kinship care deserves a well-supported kinship family and the stable, loving home they can give.