Whether you are already raising a relative’s or friend’s child, or are considering it, there are a lot of things to think about so you can make decisions that are right for both of you.
It’s important to be aware of your legal position and to know what support is available. You should seek advice as early as possible, and preferably before seeking any legal order.
There are various types of kinship care, ranging from informal arrangements through to ‘looked after children’ living with kinship foster carers. Different types of kinship care bring different rights, responsibilities and opportunities for support.
Below are some things you should consider and questions you should ask before deciding to become a kinship carer. You can always call our advice line on 0300 123 7015 if you’re not sure what to do.
Do you have enough space at home?
Bear in mind that you may need more space as children get older, such as when they can no longer share a bedroom or need room to do homework. How might you get help with bigger accommodation if this is a problem?
Might you need respite?
Sometimes you might need a bit of a break. This might be possible if, for instance, the child can sometimes spend a day, a weekend or a short holiday with their parents or with another family member. Could the child take part in children’s activities such as Brownies or Scout camps that would be a way for you to have a break while they have fun with other children? There’s nothing wrong with needing respite, and it might make all the difference to being able to carry on, but you should always try to put the child’s needs first. Respite works best if the child goes somewhere they want to be.Bear in mind that you may need more space as children get older, such as when they can no longer share a bedroom or need room to do homework. How might you get help with bigger accommodation if this is a problem?
How will being a kinship carer affect your life?
Think about the ways in which caring for a child will affect the way you lead your life, and any changes you will need to make. Do you have other caring responsibilities to fit in? Are you prepared to make any necessary sacrifices to your social life and outside interests? Consider who might be able to help you with any childcare you need, and how you will find out about other issues that are important when you are bringing up a child, such as the education system.
How will you manage financially?
Work out how you will be affected by any loss of income from employment and whether you will be eligible for any benefits or other financial support which might help to cover any loss. Consider what it might cost to provide for any child you are caring for and whether you can manage this without financial help. Parents remain responsible for maintaining their children unless they have ‘looked after’ status, but very often kinship carers do not receive any financial support from parents.
If the child is placed with you by the local authority, you may be entitled to receive a foster allowance. In other cases, you may be eligible for discretionary payments. You can find more information about financial support in different circumstances here. If in any doubt about the status of the arrangement, you should seek legal advice or contact our advice team. Our advice team are able to offer benefit checks and discuss what financial support is available to you. You can email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0300 123 7015.
Will you have to give up your job?
Think about whether you’ll be able to continue to work, or whether you’ll need to adjust or reduce your working pattern. Will you need to change jobs or give up work completely?
Bear in mind that all employees have the right to request flexible working provided they have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks. This might include working part-time or as a job-share, or working longer hours over fewer days or working from home. Employers must deal with requests in a ‘reasonable manner’. They should usually make a decision within three months and can only refuse for good business reasons.
What about your age and health?
It is sensible to think about your age in relation to that of the child, and long term plans. Think also about your health and how you would manage if it deteriorates. Will you be able to go on providing care for as long as it is needed, and are there others who will be able to help you or take over if necessary?
How will you manage contact arrangements?
Will you have to think about arranging contact with the child’s parents? Can contact be informal, or will it need to be organised and supervised by someone? Where will it take place? Who will pay for travel and other expenses? How will any conflict be managed?
How will being a kinship carer affect family relationships?
You should think about how your new role will affect your own and the child’s relationship with their parents, as well as with other family members. How will your own children feel about someone else joining the household? How will the child react to their grandparents taking on a parental role?
What is the long term plan?
If you agree to take the child for a short period, might this turn into a long term commitment? Are you clear about for how long the child will need care, and are you in a position to meet that need?
Who will support you?
It will be helpful to try to think from the start about what support you will require to meet the child’s needs and where you might get this. Friends, neighbours and family can all be a great source of help, and there are support groups, networks and information sources for kinship carers. There are services available to all children or to those with particular needs. Depending on the legal situation, you may be entitled to support from children’s services or any help may be discretionary.
You also need to consider your own needs if you are going to do the best you can by the children. It’s important that you care for yourself and keep yourself fit and healthy emotionally as well as physically.
What is your motivation?
You might have thought very carefully about becoming a kinship carer, or everything may have happened in a rush. You may have lots of complicated emotions such as feeling responsible, angry, or that you have no real choice but to help. None of these feelings are wrong, but if you are clear about why you are offering to help it will enable you to make better informed decisions. You can still say no if you have weighed it all up and feel this isn’t the right choice. Only you know the right decision for you.
What do you know about the needs of the child or children you are going to care for?
Is anyone else such as a social worker or health visitor involved and concerned about the child’s welfare? If so, how will they provide care and support for the child?