Kinship Care Challenges: Overcoming Obstacles for Family Well-Being

Kinship Care Challenges: Overcoming Obstacles for Family Well-Being

Research conducted by the charity Kinship in 2023 underlined the challenging role of kinship carers in the UK. The report, entitled ‘Breaking Point’ found that many kinship care families struggled with issues such as financial insecurity, food insecurity and a lack of overall support, advice and information when dealing with their kinship child’s physical and emotional needs.

Worryingly, the report concluded that these issues mean some siblings would be split up and an estimated 19,000 children were at risk of leaving kinship care and instead being placed under the care of their local authority. In this article, we’ll explore the topic of kinship care in more detail and look at how the obstacles many kinship carers are facing today can be overcome for longer term wellbeing.

What is kinship care, and how does it differ from traditional foster care?

When a parent is unable to take care of their child, there are several pathways available to the family to ensure the wellbeing of that child. The local authority can help to organise foster care or adoption for example, or kinship care can be arranged.

Kinship care sees a child living with a relative, such as a grandparent or an older sibling, a friend, or a neighbour because their parent is unable to care for them. The child will live with that friend or relative most of the time or full time. The arrangement will be informal and social services won’t need to be notified. The kinship carer won’t assume parental responsibility for the child in an official capacity.

In some circumstances, the local authority will request that a child be placed with kinship carers because their parent can’t take care of them. This happens when the local authority assumes responsibility for looking after the child, either following a parental request or due to care proceedings. In the event of care proceedings, an interim care order or final care order could see social services placing the child with a kinship foster carer.

Traditional foster care differs from kinship care in that the foster parent could be someone unknown to the child. Any adult over the age of 18 can apply to be a foster parent. They will undergo assessment and training and once a child is placed with them by the local authority, will work with professionals such as teachers and social services to ensure the child’s overall care needs are being met.

What are the common challenges faced by kinship care families?

Breaking Point found that kinship care families most commonly struggle with:

  1. Financial issues

Financial pressures are a major stress point for kinship care families, with 1 in 10 saying that they had run out of food within the last two weeks and didn’t have money to buy more. There is a higher level of financial insecurity amongst kinship care families than other care givers – perhaps because unlike in traditional foster care settings, there are no financial payments to kinship carers.

  1. Splitting up siblings

 Some kinship carers say they struggle to care for siblings, meaning they will often be split up and one or more children placed with the local authority. Practical issues like space were one reason given for being unable to keep siblings together, but other causes included the financial burden of caring for more than one child simultaneously, and problems dealing with children who had more complex physical or emotional needs within the home.

  1. A lack of formal support

Many kinship carers agreed that the level of support, advice, and information they receive is poor. Around a third say the information they have been given about kinship care is ‘inadequate’ while many cite an overall lack of financial and practical support as being problematic.

  1. Poor health

Breaking Point revealed that kinship carers often struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation and a disproportionate number suffer from poor health.

How can kinship caregivers access support services and resources to address these challenges?

Many local councils offer Kinship support services which connect kinship families with helpful resources such as training and specialist support. They can also provide advice regarding financial allowances, such as pension credits, dealing with debt, dealing with education-related expenses and any benefits which may be available.

Organisations such as Kinship provide a range of online support services, including free workshops, online advice, free guides, and online support groups.

In some areas, community support groups also meet regularly to provide kinship carers with peer-to-peer support.

What strategies can kinship caregivers employ to promote family well-being and resilience despite obstacles?

Researchers in the USA have been studying how kinship caregivers can develop strength and resilience to better cope with the stresses and challenges associated with kinship care. Their studies suggest that undertaking activities such as shared leisure time as a family can help to reduce stress and conflict within the family unit, contributing to overall wellbeing.

As we saw in Breaking Point’s research, poor health is often a concern for kinship carers. Taking steps to improve their own physical and mental health can help carers feel more capable and less worried about the level of care they’re able to provide.

Accessing local and online support services is also key – with the right advice and practical support, it’s possible to feel better equipped to deal with some aspects of kinship caregiving. That same support can also ensure all financial support is being accessed, helping to boost overall wellbeing and lessen the scale of the challenge faced.

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