What is Relative Experience?

Relative Experience is a tried and tested support programme for kinship carers that was established in 2012 by Grandparents Plus and Family Lives with funding from the Big Lottery. The service was successfully implemented since then across the twelve local authority areas in the North East of England. The programme includes:

  • One-to-one support from project workers independent of social services
  • Befriending from trained and supported volunteers
  • Support group development

The service has supported 765 kinship carers and 800 children so far. Over 150 volunteers have been recruited as befrienders and 19 support groups have been developed to become sustainable and kinship carer-led.

Who is the programme for?

The programme is open to all kinship carers. This includes Special Guardians, carers with Residence Orders, Child Arrangements Orders and informal arrangements, as well as family and friends foster carers and those with private fostering arrangements. Evaluation shows that the proportion of carers who are in touch with their local authority is high.

Most kinship carers step in to avoid the children going into local authority care, with the majority unable to live with their parents due to drug or alcohol dependencies, abuse or neglect. It’s estimated that around 200,000 children in the UK are currently being brought up in this way, many having experienced significant trauma.

What did the service mean for local authorities?

An independent evaluation of the Relative Experience service in the North East found that of the 550 families we supported from 2014 – 2017. The number of children on Child Protection Plans reduced by 86% and the number of Children in Need reduced by 88%. This amounted to an estimated saving for local authority budgets of just under a quarter of a million pounds.

The independent evaluation of Relative Experience 2014-17 concluded that there was clear evidence of the positive impact on kinship carers, including a statistically significant positive impact in the following areas:

  • Reduced isolation: kinship carers have time out for themselves, meet people in the same situation, share experiences and seek advice from peers
  • Reduced financial concerns: kinship cares are supported to access financial support they are entitled to including welfare benefits and emergency grants
  • Reduced levels of concern with children’s behaviour: children’s health and wellbeing; concerns with kinship carers’ ability to cope
  • Improved relationships: with family members

What was the feedback from users of the service?

Kinship carers support group – Wallsend, Newcastle - 2015

The Wallsend Support Group was formed in 2015. A kinship carer who had attended the Newcastle support group since it was set up decided she would like to run a group within her local authority area. She found a venue - her local church - and the project worker accompanied the kinship carer to a meeting with the priest to agree days, times and venue costs.

At the outset the group received fortnightly support from the project worker to become established. As the support they needed decreased, the project worker provided assistance to form a committee, to constitute and become independent. The group now has 30 kinship carers registered. Around 12 attend fortnightly to receive updates and meet others on an ad hoc basis. The group regularly fundraises and holds events during school holidays when children and young people attend. As well as offering kinship carers an opportunity to chat and share experiences, during term time speakers are invited to attend the group to provide training and outline services of benefit to group members. The British Red Cross recently delivered first aid for children training to the kinship carers in the group.

“It’s really exciting, we have had lots of support in setting up a local support group and this is going really well. We meet each Friday. The others are all kinship carers and it’s really helped us to understand what’s going on. We get a lot out of the network because it’s talking to people about experiences.” (Kinship Carer)

Kinship care befriender – Newcastle - 201

Kinship Carer B has been registered with Relative Experience since May 2017. She has looked after her 7 year old grandson, who has a learning disability, since he was 9 months old. B received a period of befriending support from a Relative Experience volunteer and continues to attend the two Newcastle kinship carer support groups, where she has assisted with fundraising events and activities for families during school holidays. B completed her volunteer training in September 2017 and is due to be matched to a kinship carer mid-October 2017. B also completed the Grandparents Plus kinship care champion training and has attended meetings to raised awareness of kinship care and promote Relative Experience services at five schools in her locality.

“The support I received was very helpful. I was able to talk about the issues and concerns I had and received good moral support from my befriender.”  (Kinship Carer)

For more information about commissioning Relative Experience for your area, please contact Kate O'Brien at [email protected] or call 020 8981 8001.