Across Scotland, thousands of people such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends care for children because their birth parents are unable to do so for a whole range of possible reasons. If you are looking after a child or young person in this way – full time or most of the time – then you are a kinship carer.
Because kinship care is not what is traditionally understood to be care work, there are an unknown number of kinship carers who do not realise they are entitled to practical and financial support.
Did you know? Kinship carers who are known to the system look after half of all ‘looked after’ children in Scotland.
Terminology: Children in all types of care are sometimes referred to as “looked after” children or young people.
There are a variety of possible reasons for a child to be in kinship care. Some of these are: parental imprisonment, parental drug and alcohol problems, parental mental health issues, bereavement, parental illness or absence, neglect and abuse. Unless there is a clear reason that kinship care wouldn’t be in the child’s best interest, this will be the first option considered for the child. This rule was set out by the Scottish Government in 2007.
The main reason Scottish Government prefers a child to be cared for by family or close friends is the because children already have a relationship with their kin - called secure attachment – which is essential for children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Kinship carers can face a variety of different issues that have a financial or personal impact.
• A disproportionate number of kinship families live in poverty due to the financial pressures of care and because sometimes carers have to reduce or stop work.
• Often children in kinship care have faced early trauma or neglect; have attachment issues and and can be vulnerable. This can sometimes lead to challenging and disruptive behavior. This can particularly have an effect at school.
• Looked after children statistically don’t do as well in school. Their attendance is lower, they are more likely to be excluded and they do not achieve the same level of qualifications.
When it comes to behaviour and education; raising awareness and encouraging involvement and support is key to improving the experience of looked after children in schools. An understanding of the unique support needs of this group is key to closing the attainment and skills gap for them. Teachers need to be equipped with the skills and practices to improve the abilities of individual children to engage in classroom learning.
The Centre for Excellence for Looked after Children in Scotland (CELCIS) are undertaking research to establish why there is a consistent link between parent and carer involvement and a child’s attainment at school. We know that it works, but once we understand why we can start using it to increase attainment in vulnerable children.
Many kinship carers don’t put themselves forward in the same way as a parent might, and often don’t get involved with the child’s school except when there are issues. Kinship carers have the same rights to be involved as any birth or adoptive parent, so SPTC’s work with schools and parent groups often looks at how a wider range of parents can carers can be supported and encouraged to get involved.
All families can face challenging times and should be able to access support. On 1 April 2016 new regulations came into force directing local authorities to make safeguarding, supporting and financial assistance available to kinship carers who meet the criteria.
If you think you may be eligible for support there are great online resources that can tell you everything you need to know about kinship care and looked after children. For detailed information about all the help, support and advice that is available to kinship carers check out the following sites:
Children 1st Kinship Care Services – Includes local service information and an online webchat feature.
Citizens Advice Bureau - Wealth of information online, or you can call or drop into your local CAB for a chat.
Scottish Government – All the information you need about your legal rights and referrals to other services.