Support for kinship carers

Read our questions and answers about kinship care in Scotland.

Kinship care is where a child or young person lives full-time or most of the time with a relative or family friend because they are not able to live with their birth parents.

There are two different types of kinship care. These distinctions are primarily based on who has been involved in the decision-making process:

  1. Formal care arrangements – where the child has been placed by social work, the court and/or children’s panel and you have received some or all parental responsibilities. The child’s legal status can be either ‘looked after’ by the local authority or ‘non looked after’ with a Section 11/Residence Order also known as a Kinship Care Order.
  2. Informal care arrangements - where a voluntary decision has been made with relatives for the care of the child. Social workers have played no significant role and you have no parental rights or responsibilities for the child. 

If you are a kinship carer it is important to understand the legal status of the child(ren) you are caring for. Whether your child is ‘Looked after’ or not ‘looked after’ by the local authority is central to understanding your entitlements, rights and duties of the local authority to provide support.

Whether a child is deemed looked after or non-looked after is determined by who has been involved in placing the child with the kinship carer.

  • Looked After: if the child has been placed with you by a children's hearing, court or social work they are more than likely looked after.
  • Non-Looked After: if you have a Residence Order (often referred to as a s.11 Order, or Kinship Care Order) or the child is living with you as a result of a private agreement between you and the child's parents, the child is more than likely non-looked after.

If you are unsure whether the child is ‘looked after’ or not, you can ask your local social work department. They will be familiar with the phrase and should be able to tell you quite easily.

The local authority has particular responsibility for the care of a child living in formal kinship care even though the everyday care is provided by kinship carers. This means that the local authority has a duty to assess the needs of looked after children and put plans in place outlining the services and supports the child will receive.

The local authority still has duties towards children living in informal kinship care arrangements, but these duties are the same as they have towards all children in their area.

Some local authorities across Scotland have dedicated kinship care social workers, but this is not the case in all areas.

In kinship care arrangements, the carer will be known to the child and is usually a member of their extended family or a close family friend. This often means that when there is more than one child, they are able to stay together as a family unit and will often be able to stay in the same area and at the same school. In comparison to alternative care arrangements, kinship care children often benefit from better physical health and do better in school. We know from our experience that kinship care arrangements are generally stronger and last longer than other types of placements.

Foster carer is where a child is placed by the local authority with someone other than their family on a short or long-term basis. Anyone can apply to become a foster carer, but only those who complete a strict assessment process and are approved by the local authority will have children placed with them. Foster carers will almost always be unknown to the child and may live outwith the local area.

Unlike kinship care, fostering is a job and foster carers receive a fee for looking after the children that are placed with them.

The Scottish Government recently announced an additional £10.1m per annum funding for kinship care allowances. The aim is to ensure parity of allowances within local authority areas between kinship and foster carers. From 1 October 2015, kinship carers who are eligible should receive an allowance at a minimum of the same rate as foster carers in their local authority area. The allowances will differ in each local authority area. This agreement will apply to a) kinship carers of looked after children, and b) kinship carers who hold a section 11/Kinship Care order and meet certain eligibility criteria.

Funding started from 1 October 2015. Given the quick turn-around it may take local authorities a short while to determine how much each kinship carer should now receive. If delays occur, kinship carers are expected to receive backdated payments from 1 October 2015.

In the interests of transparency, each local authority should publish a revised Kinship and Fostering Allowances Policy which should include key details of entitlement, eligibility criteria, how it will be assessed, where more information can be found, where complaints can be made and any other relevant information. These policies should be published as soon as possible and local authorities will wish to update them on a regular basis. In the interim, local authorities should publish their current foster care rates by 1 November at the latest. 

We acknowledge that the changes will affect some, but not all kinship care families. In that respect, Children 1st is keen to work with government to ensure consistency across the country.

For full information, please see the updated Scottish Government information

We understand that no two kinship care arrangements are the same and it is essential that you receive expert advice in regard to your legal and financial entitlements. Citizens Advice Scotland run a Kinship Care Service dedicated to helping kinship carers with financial and legal issues. They can be contacted at Citizens Advice Scotland.

Depending on your circumstances and the way your local authority pays kinship care allowance it can have an impact on other benefits you may receive.

The rules for calculating the impact of kinship care allowance on other benefits are complicated and we recommend you contact Citizens Advice Scotland and ask for a better off calculation to be carried out. This will tell you what impact kinship care allowance has on your other benefits and whether or not it is in your interest to claim it.

Depending on your circumstances, it may be important to speak to a solicitor. You can contact The Scottish Child Law Centre for free legal advice Mon-Fri 9.30am-4.00pm on 0131 667 6333.