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Guidance on the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007


Chapter 9 Kinship Care

Relevant Regulations - 10 to 16

In this chapter:

1. Introduction
2. The Legal Basis for Kinship Placements
3. Definition of Kinship Care
4. The Assessment of Kinship Carers
5. Emergency or Urgent Placements with Kinship Carers
6. Planned Placements in Kinship Care
7. Approving Kinship Carers
8. Information to be gathered as part of the Assessment
9. Placement with Kinship Carers
10. Placement Agreements
11. Placement for Permanence
12. Agreement with Kinship Carers
13. Allowances and Financial Support to Kinship Carers
14. Other support to be provided to Kinship Carers
15. The Review of Kinship Carers' Approval
16. Notifications of Placements
17. Short term placements in Kinship Care
18. Case Records for Kinship Carers

1. Introduction

Recent research has consistently demonstrated that placement within a child's own network can be a positive placement option. Key publications on this topic include the following:

  • The study by Jane Aldgate and Miranda McIntosh in 2006 for the Social Work Inspection Agency Looking after the Family focused attention on the value of kinship care for many children who become looked after and recognised this form of care in its own right.
  • The National Fostering and Kinship Care Strategy published in December 2006 which identified support as central to further development of kinship care.
  • Getting it Right for every child in kinship and foster care, published in 2007, confirmed the commitment of the Scottish Government to give attention to the needs of kinship carers.
  • Moving Forward in Kinship and Foster care published in March 2009 provides further consideration of the work needed to strengthen kinship care and sets out the outcomes for children from a strong and professional approach to working with looked after children and their kinship carers.

The Looked after Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 support this growing research and practice in this type of provision by focusing specifically upon kinship care. In taking this forward, local authorities should ensure that their procedures explicitly address the needs of kinship care and have appropriate processes in place. This should include an identified lead within the local authority for developing policy and monitoring progress.

In Scotland, as in other cultures, family and friends have always played an important role in supporting parents and their children at times of crisis. Many of these arrangements may be regarded as informal as the child does not have a legal relationship with a local authority. These regulations do not apply to informal arrangements.

Kinship care arrangements which need to be formally recognised are where the child is "looked after" by a local authority and therefore in a legal relationship with that local authority. The local authority is accountable for the placement with the kinship carers. These are the kinship carers who must be approved in terms of the Looked After Children Regulations.

2. The Legal Basis for Kinship Placements

For kinship care placements the two main legal bases will be a child for whom the local authority is as follows:

  • providing accommodation under s25 of the 1995 Act
  • a child is subject to a supervision requirement in terms of s70 of the 1995 Act.

Permanence Orders and adoption will become relevant when considering longer term plans for such children.

3. Definition of Kinship Care

For the purposes of this guidance, regulation 10 provides a broad definition of a kinship carer as:

i) a person related to the child by blood, marriage or civil partnership- with no restrictions on closeness of that related status;

ii) a person known to the child and with whom the child has a pre-existing relationship. This could include close friends or people who know the child well through regular contact and can be seen as part of the child's network.

Local authorities will need to determine whether a child requires Looked After Children status in order to ensure his or her welfare. For some children and young people, becoming looked after is neither welcomed nor required; for others, particularly where additional scrutiny is required or there are known risk factors, it will be essential to regard the placement as falling within the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009. Local Authorities should ensure that the criteria for making these complex judgments are explicit and transparent. Local authorities should also have clear information available regarding any support they may be able to offer kinship carers who are not covered by these regulations.

Private Fostering

Local authorities also have a responsibility in relation to private fostering. They should have clear information available about when non relatives may be assessed as kinship carers under these regulations and when they may step in to care for a child in accordance with the wishes of the birth parent(s) and need to be aware of the private fostering requirements. They should encourage such arrangements to be notified to them so that an assessment can be made. Staff should be provided with clear agency guidelines on their responsibilities in this respect.

Professionals providing Care

Where individuals have come to know children though their workplace or a professional contact, local authorities may also need to consider where this is a personal relationship with someone who is stepping in during an emergency as a known person to the child and where it is more appropriate to proceed via a fostering application. Where there is a choice of route, social workers should ensure they seek guidance from their line manager and that all decisions in areas of discretion are clearly recorded.

4. The Assessment of Kinship Carers

Local authorities carry out assessments in various contexts to underpin planning and decision-making in the best interests of children. As with all assessments, balance, clarity of purpose and openness are essential. An understanding of the risks and factors that led to the child becoming looked after needs to be considered alongside the potential of the kinship carers to respond to the child's needs and work in genuine partnership with the local authority.

As a starting point, it is helpful to articulate the potential strengths and values of kinship care and the possible areas of risk or vulnerability against which individual assessments can be evaluated. Such factors are set out below.

Potential Strengths of Kinship Care

The potential strengths of kinship placements include the following:

  • Reduction of the upset of separation, greater continuity of care and recognition of the importance of known carers and contacts for the child;
  • A sense of 'normality' in the eyes of the child and the community and a lessening of the stigma of being 'looked after by the local authority';
  • Maintenance of the child's sense of identity and their place in the family;
  • Continuity of culture and heritage; and
  • Understanding of the child's history and experiences.

Possible Vulnerabilities of Kinship Care

The potential vulnerabilities of kinship placements include the following:

  • Issues around protection of the child when they remain within the family network;
  • Managing complex contact across the family network, especially where this has already been a factors in any concerns;
  • Handling conflicting emotions arising from the child's situation, particularly initial distress, grief, hurt or anger;
  • The extent to which the birth parents' problems are reflected in the wider family - or the degree to which the parents have been isolated or antagonised.

At every stage, the local authority has the responsibility to ensure the child's safety. Local authorities are also aware at any time of broader strategies such as GIRFEC and policy about the aims and aspirations for all children for whom they provide services; and for particular identified groups who may have additional needs or vulnerabilities.

5. Emergency or Urgent Placements with Kinship Carers

A number of kinship placements are required urgently, before a full assessment is possible. This has implications for the local authority process in planning their kinship care service. Key implications include the following:

  • Family Meetings and Family Group Conferences.

Where children and their birth parents are already known to the local authority either because they are already subject to a home supervision order, or receiving some level of support service, the possibility of a family group meeting or a more formalised family group conference may have already occurred. The optimum timing of a family group meeting may vary. In some situations a family meeting clarifies the need for a kinship assessment; in others it can be helpful to have the assessment about the potential strengths and risks of a certain placement in advance of a family group meeting.

For looked after children, the local authority and/or the hearings will be the decision- making bodies. In these situations family meetings would be providing a recommendation rather than a decision about care placements. However, for all children, family meetings can be valuable in bringing together a plan and decisions on a range of issues ( e.g. contact, communication, health etc.).

Family recommendations and decisions can support and stabilise a potential or current placement. The place of such meetings should be recognised within procedures and they will be important in helping to decide the viability of a kinship care placement. They will also contribute to the planning of an assessment and an understanding of the particular perceptions and motivation of the possible kinship carers and who else in the network can add their support.

  • Timescales

The urgent assessment of kinship placements should take account of the requirements to review the child's plan set out in Part X of the Regulations. The model of assessment in kinship care should clearly consider the child's needs alongside the capacity of the kinship carer to meet them. As such, it is should be linked with the review of the initial arrangements according the following timescales:

  • At three days;
  • Six weeks;
  • Completion of the kinship assessment in time for the child's review at 4.5 months

Regulation 36 allows the possibility of placement with an unapproved kinship carer in an emergency and other sections of Part Xset timescales for the completion of a full assessment and approval. Altogether, this allows 12 weeks for the process. Local authorities need to have procedures in place to enable these assessments to be planned, allocated and completed within the necessary timescales. How this happens will depend on the size and structure of the local authority.

  • Who carries out the assessment

This assessment may be carried out by a member of the family placement team, the children and families team who carry responsibility for planning for the child or, in large authorities, by a team with a particular remit to develop kinship care.

Whoever carries out the assessment needs to be mindful of the specific issues and dilemmas arising from kinship assessments, and supported to use an assessment framework which is clear and objective. In order to achieve objectivity, the assessment should not solely rely upon the views of any one individual child's worker.

  • The needs to ascertain the views, wishes and feelings of the child or young person

Although the regulations in Part V do not directly refer to the child's views, the interweaving of the assessment of kinship carers with planning for the child brings to the fore the need at all stages to consider the wishes and feelings of the child as they are able to express them or as observed in their behaviour and responses.

  • The need to keep the Children's Hearing informed

As many of these placements are initiated by the Children's Hearing, it will be important to keep them informed about the progress of the assessment and in particular to ensure that they are made aware immediately of any concerns that emerge that could compromise the child's safety.

6. Planned Placements in Kinship Care.

As with all care planning, the inevitable disruption of an emergency placement should be avoided as far as possible. A period of introduction and familiarisation prior to any placement can assist in reducing the degree of anxiety or distress a child may experience.

Developing strategies and the growing use of family group conferences and other family meetings should help in increasing the use of planned and assessed kinship placements. Members of the child's extended network may be identified by birth parents as an option where a brief intervention in a crisis is lasting longer than expected, or the child's plan becomes a permanent placement. The child may be temporarily placed with foster carers or in a residential unit to provide sufficient time for other family members may come forward for consideration. These potential carers may not necessarily have a close relationship with the child or may live at some distance from them.

While there may not be the same immediate pressure as in an emergency placement, it is good practice to aim at completing these assessments within the 12 week limit for emergency placements unless there are identified reasons for requiring a longer period. In such situations, a realistic timescale should be agreed and adhered to in order to ensure that decisions are made within a child centred period.

For young children, the alternative if kinship carers are not suitable is likely to be adoption and this needs to be progressed quickly in the best interests of the child. If there is more than one option to be explored before looking at other options for permanence, these should be identified quickly. Initial assessments should be carried out simultaneously wherever possible to avoid delay from sequential assessments.

For older children with ongoing contact with birth parents, the parents are likely to know of and have views on the possible kinship placement. Their views require consideration in the assessment process.

7. Approving Kinship Carers and Reviewing non-approval decisions

(3)Regulation 10 refers to the local authority making an approval decision. It does not define the process. The local authority may decide to use their existing Fostering Panel, a subgroup of that panel focusing on making recommendations about kinship care assessments, or a small group including a manager set up for the purpose. Whatever decision-making process is established, the individuals should be well supported and trained in the distinctive aspects of kinship placements.

Although the pattern of a panel discussion, recommendation and then endorsement by an agency decision maker which is familiar in foster care is not specified, local authorities should consider a form of this process in order to be accountable for these placements. There is no provision in the regulations for review if a kinship carer is not approved but good practice indicates that local authorities should make provision for a similar review of the decision as may be available to fostering applicants.

8. Information to be Gathered as part of the assessment

The broad areas on which the local authority must satisfy themselves in placing a child with kinship carers are laid out in regulation 11(2). This includes the information that should be gathered under regulation 10(3) including 'as far as reasonably practicable' the information set out in Schedule 3.

The information gathered should enable the assessment to conclude whether the placement with the specific kinship carers is in the best interests of the child and the carer is judged 'a suitable person'. In addition, regulation 11(2) refers to the written agreement in regulation 12 (the kinship carer agreement in accordance with Schedule 5) and also Schedule 4 (the placement agreement). These are covered later, post-approval, but at the outset of the assessment it is important to place working in partnership with the local authority clearly on the agenda.

Although Schedule 3 refers to both kinship and foster carers, workers carrying out assessments will need to be alert to the fact that kinship assessments are always for a specific child or children, tailoring their reports accordingly.

The gathering and assessment of this information will focus upon the child's needs and the plan for the child. The child's perception and understanding of his/her kinship network and the child's place within that network is an important part of this.

Relationships and attitudes within the extended family will inevitably play a central part. Other areas to consider include the following:

  • Age

As many kinship carers are grandparents, questions of age and health will need to be approached sensitively. Extra attention may need to be paid to both the support that will be available from other family members and any other additional support services required. The significance of this will depend on the age of the child and the anticipated duration of the placement. Where this is unclear, the issue of long-term capacity to provide care should be addressed and appropriate arrangements made to monitor the situation.

  • How the child will be supported to fulfil their potential

In accommodating children, local authorities need to ensure that children are enabled to fulfil their potential. The opportunities provided through kinship care may be less immediately obvious than in foster care, but if a child is less traumatised by a move within a known network, or the kinship placement accords with their wishes, they are more likely to be able to benefit from the care and support that is available. The question then becomes one of identifying the need for any specifically tailored support for the kinship placement.

  • Medical Issues of the Prospective Kinship Carers

The request for a medical report should highlight any area which is seen to be significant for this particular kinship carer and the child to be placed.

  • The use of an application form

The use of a foster carer application form may appear alien to kinship carers and be unrealistic in an emergency. Workers should be clear about the basic information that must be recorded at the outset, explicit about this with the potential carers and have a simple format available to ensure that the various checks can be carried out in a timely way.

  • Household Members and Family Members

Information about all the people in the household may have particular importance as they are all likely to know the child and have views on the situation leading to the need for the placement. Equally, the views of other family members living outside the household, especially parents, will be central to the management of the placement. The kinship carers will need to demonstrate an ability place the needs of the child above any loyalty they may feel towards the parents of the child.

  • Accommodation

Accommodation may be important, particularly where there is more than one child to be placed. Unlike the assessment of foster carers where accommodation may dictate the number of children who may be placed, in kinship care the question may be about what help the local authority can offer to enable adequate facilities to be available if otherwise the kinship placement is in the best interests of children.

  • Identity

Issues related religious persuasion, ethnicity and cultural heritage may cause tensions with a proposed kinship placement. For example, the religious persuasion of a birth parent may have diverged from the proposed kinship carer, or a grandparent may disapprove of a multiracial relationship within their family.

The proposed kinship carers' ability to overcome any such tensions in order to prioritise the needs of the child will need to be demonstrated through the assessment process. Surveys of looked after children consistently emphasise that they do not want to be forced into a conflict of loyalty between their primary carers and their birth family.

  • Standard of Living

Although there is no minimum standard of living set for any type of fostering the household will need to be able to demonstrate that they have the capacity and potential to enable children to fulfil their potential, and their household is sufficiently financially secure to provide stability for the child placed.

  • The impact of the prospective carers' previous experience of parenting.

The capacity of the prospective kinship carer to care for their own or other children and their previous experience of parenting is often a complex area. This may be particularly sensitive when the need for the placement arises from the difficulties experienced by the proposed kinship carer's own son or daughter. Exploring this area may be particularly emotive for these prospective carers. Nevertheless, it is important to address this as thoroughly as possible, as a potential risk factor in the assessment and as an indication of how best to support the placement if approved. Discussion about past difficulties may enable the carers to identify different approaches to caring for the child to be placed.

  • Statutory Checks and Confidentiality

Kinship carers require the same checks as foster carers. Particular attention must be given to any child related offence, violence or dishonesty that could provide a poor model for a child placed and affect the relationship of trust that the local authority will need to build with the carer. Any conviction needs to be seen in the context of their overall suitability to care for the child, the child's views and the other benefits of maintaining the particular child within that specific family network. Practitioners will need to consider how best to share information which may arise as part of this process with other members of the family.

There will be a need to strike a balance between privacy and openness, bearing in mind that family members may already be aware of some of this information or have previously decided not to share it with other members of their family.

  • Previous Applications to become Kinship Carers

Details of any approvals or refusals of past applications to foster or become a kinship carer need to be examined and the worker must be able to give a clear reasoned statement about whether any past refusal of approval is or is not significant for this current application.

  • Exploration of Motivation

In considering motivation, a full discussion with the carers about why they want to become carers for the particular child and their understanding of the task will be needed. For many kinship carers this is an emotive area which may bring forward a number of complex feelings about the family history of the child and his/her parents. The worker's reflection on the issues with their supervisor will shape the analysis of the motivation of the kinship carer.

  • Referees and References

The need for references is included in Schedule 3 but the approach may need different planning than for fostering applications. Information from other people should reflect a balance between meeting any other significant members of the child's kinship network and also independent references from non family members. They should seek specific information about the kinship carers' ability to care for the child and the particular dynamics within the family network. A visit to referees is always useful so that the challenges can be explained, particularly when it is a kinship care placement and many people might see this as simply caring for "one of the family". Referees may underestimate the implications of a child's experience of separation and loss. An open and honest discussion of the possible challenges during the reference visit may help the referee to provide an accurate assessment of the prospective carer's potential.

  • Behaviour Management

Local authorities across all their children's services, including social work and education, do not allow any corporal punishment to the child. Schedule 5 specifically extends this to kinship carers. This may be a contentious requirement if the family discipline to date has included corporal punishment. This area will need detailed discussion with the kinship carers and clear explanation about the thinking behind this obligation. Work during the assessment should address a range of other strategies to cope with difficult and challenging behaviour.

  • The ability to maintain confidentiality

The need to keep information given to the carer in confidence may also need detailed consideration during the assessment. Given the complexity of family dynamics within some kinship placement specific dilemmas and issues may require careful and sensitive discussion.

  • Relevance of the assessment to the Task

Research into kinship care has repeatedly demonstrated that prospective kinship carers are often unaware of the purpose or relevance of the assessment process. Throughout the assessment, the content of the discussion should consistently link back to the needs of the child, the child's views and the way the plan for the child is evolving. The assessment should always seems focused and relevant to the kinship carer, not simply a process for its own sake.

9. Placement with kinship carers

Regulation 11 covers planned placements of looked after children with approved kinship carers and should be read alongside regulation 36 on emergency placements. Between them, these two regulations address the requirements when children are placed away from their birth parents with kinship carers. While a number may be emergency placements, particularly through the Children's Hearing, regulation 11 draws attention to the potential benefits of considering ways of developing more planned use of kinship care
Both regulation 11(1) and regulation 36(4) set out similar prohibitions on placements which are contrary to any supervision requirement or any other relevant order or warrant listed there. Once compliance with any current orders has been checked, as these are formal kinship care arrangements, then local authorities should include in their procedures the written agreements to be signed as in the relevant parts of regulations 11, 12 and 36.

10. Placement Agreements

With foster carers, normally there will be separation between the following two types of agreement:

  • the general foster carer agreement following approval covering the obligations of the carer to the local authority, and of the local authority to the carers; and the
  • placement agreements based on the specific needs of any children placed.

In kinship care these two different types of agreements will be closely linked, largely because the kinship carers will be approved for specific children. Where prospective kinship carers are not yet approved these will be preceded by agreement to the areas detailed in regulation 36(3). Local authorities should consider ways in which these different agreements at various stages work together to make sense to the carers.

The Kinship Carer's Responsibilities

The carer has a duty to promote the child's welfare having regard to both the immediate and long-term plans for the child. Where the carer disagrees with the plan, workers will need to help the carer to express their concerns and how they can continue to care for the child safely and well.

Other obligations cover the need to inform the local authority immediately about any serious illness of the child or any serious occurrence. For some carers it will be important to expand that to give examples of what the local authority would see as serious, especially where kinship carers see this as 'family business'.

The duty to notify the local authority of the death of a looked after child is not spelled out in the schedule but that must be built into the agreement so that the local authority can fulfil their obligation to advise Scottish Ministers immediately, and wherever practicable the parents of the child and every person who has any parental rights or responsibilities in relation to the child- regulation 6. See also Chapter 6 of this guidance.

Sections 4 and 5 in the schedule look at the kinship carers' obligations to the local authority and the child. They are a mixture of administrative duties like informing of changes that may have a bearing on the kinship carers' ability to care for the child placed with them. This includes any convictions subsequent to approval or investigation or changes in the household. Changes in arrangements for the contact of the birth parents with the child will more usually be dealt with through the Looked After Children Review.

The carer must allow the child to be removed from their home where the placement is terminated.

The Local Authority Obligations

Schedule 4 sets out the obligations of the local authority and of the kinship carers in terms of the placement of the specific child with the kinship carers. The key aspects of this agreement are very similar to the placement agreements in use with foster carers and practice surrounding the use of placement agreements applies.

The local authority must give the kinship carer a statement with all the information about the child, which the local authority sees as necessary for the carer to care for that child. They should also receive a copy of the Child's Plan as outlined in regulation 5and a copy of any court or supervision order so that the carer is clear about any restrictions or requirements of such an order.

Given that most kinship carers will already have knowledge of the child's background, it may be that this information is built up together but it is still relevant to ensure that the kinship carer has information which is as accurate as possible about the health and educational needs of the child. Particular sensitivity may be needed in kinship situations where some of this information is under dispute, such as paternity questions, or information has not been shared within the family network.

The agreement must also identify what financial support the carers can expect. With kinship carers this information may not be immediately available and where there are benefit issues, then the carers should be encouraged to discuss their finances with the CAS National Kinship Care Advice service, Citizen's Rights officers , CPAG or any other sources of specialist advice in this area so that a calculation can be done of what allowances may be best for their family. This recognises that for some, remaining in receipt of a range of benefits for themselves and the child may lead to them being better off than with an allowance from the local authority. (See also Section 13 below).

11. Placement for permanence

Some looked after children may be placed with kinship carers for the first time following permanency discussions which will be reflected in the placement agreement. Where a Looked After Child review decides that the child already accommodated by the local authority needs a placement that can offer her/him greater stability and that a return to his/her birth parents will not be possible, then permanency plans should be made. The fostering, adoption or permanency panel (depending upon the local authority policy) should be integral to that discussion so that all the legal and health issues are fully explored as well as ensuring that at the time of making the permanence plan, the potential of a kinship care placement has been fully explored.

Local authority procedures should consider the alternative routes to permanency with kinship carers and distinguish between the identification of potential kinship carers as part of permanence planning assessments for accommodated children and the evolution of an emergency or temporary placement into a long-term arrangement with kinship carers. This will have parallels with the development of practice with existing foster carers who have already been through an assessment and approval process and are subsequently offering permanence for a child initially placed on a temporary basis. There are similarities here both in the need to explore the implications of a changed plan and also to develop an approach which builds on the existing care arrangement. A potential difference is in the perception of the term 'permanence' especially for close relatives such as grandparents. They often need careful support in balancing the implications of a commitment to the ongoing stability for a child and their long term hopes for the future for the child's parents.

Permanence planning in this context should encompass the following:

  • the need to be able to identify the point where there has been a significant change of direction;
  • how this is explored and made explicit with all parties;
  • consideration of changing the legal status of the placement;
  • any further re-assessment element required and how this will be explained to kinship carers.

In terms of local authority procedures, there should be clarity about the respective roles of the reviewing system for children, the panels and any other forum that the local authority has in place for kinship carer approvals and reviewing. This should balance clarity about the plan with a proportionate process for the kinship carers. At the same time, they may need space to re-evaluate the commitment they are making to the child and what might have to change in their lives to manage that.

12. Agreements with kinship carers

The initial agreement signed by an unapproved kinship carer under Regulation 36(3) addresses the basic duties that the local authority requires of them. During the assessment there will be the opportunity to explore more fully the further obligations covered in Schedules 4 and 5 that will need to be agreed following approval. Schedule 5 is the kinship carer agreement and Schedule 4 is the placement agreement that relates to both foster carers and kinship carers. This provides a minimum in regulations that must be addressed and local authorities may add to and adapt these.

A major obligation is contained in paragraph 5(c) of Schedule 5 which relates to the actual care of the child and the carers' commitment to ensure that anything agreed in their Placement Agreement is carried out. Their key responsibility is to provide the child with good care and to make them a full part of their family. Safety and appropriate care are mentioned specifically and it will be essential that workers provide the carers with training and information about safe care. A separate paper setting out the expectations of keeping the child safe could be useful rather than the wider statements in the formal agreement.

13. Allowances and financial support to kinship carers

The issue of financial support to carers is addressed in Section 110 of the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, which provides the power for Ministers to make provision for payments to kinship carers. This is taken forward in Part VIII, regulation 33 of the regulations where kinship carers are included in the general provisions for the payment of allowances. This does not specify amounts or minimum levels of payment. This does not specify amounts or minimum levels of payment. A Concordat between the Scottish Government and local authorities running until 2011 includes an expectation that kinship carers should receive an equivalent amount to the allowances paid to foster carers but excluding any fee element. This signals the Government's desired direction for services for kinship carers.

Where a child is being cared for informally, and therefore not covered by the regulations, information should be available about areas such as the use of Section 22 of the 1995 Act for support in kind or cash in certain circumstances; payments under Section 50 of the Children Act 1975 or financial or other supports to assist kinship carers who have some parental rights and responsibilities under Section 11 of the 1995 Act. This is not new, but as local authorities develop their services for kinship carers for looked after children, it will be good practice to monitor support to other informal kinship arrangements where there are comparable needs. Financial and other practical support may be vital in sustaining any kinship arrangement which needs to be addressed alongside the particular circumstances to be taken into account in considering the need for a child to be regarded as 'looked after'.

The impact of kinship care allowances on universal welfare and tax benefits continues to be complex and every kinship carer of a looked after child should be encouraged to seek an expert benefits check to ensure that accepting any allowance from a local authority does not mean that they are worse off. This is a changing area and subject to UK legislation so local authorities will need access to up to date information and also be prepared to explain the Scottish dimension when the use of these regulations means that kinship carers are no longer approved as 'foster carers'. There are various sources of information about this including local authorities' own benefits advice services; the Citizen's Advice Scotland Kinship Care project; or the Child Poverty Action Group advice service. Social workers advising potential kinship carers should be aware of the issues under debate in this area and provide carers with information about the different sources of information.

While finance may feature heavily in a number of kinship placements, local authorities should also be alert to the potential range of services that may enable these placements to meet the children's need - this includes other practical provision, such as equipment, one off payments for an identified purpose as well as broader support, advice and training.

14. Other types of support to be provided to kinship carers

Schedule 5 relating to Regulation 12 starts with clear statements about the obligations of the local authority to provide support and training for kinship carers. These placements are likely to need at least as much support as that offered to foster carers both because the children frequently have comparable needs including issues around managing their behaviour and contact and also because concerns about any deterioration in birth parents' circumstances are likely to have a direct impact on the child and may also be more keenly felt by kinship carers.

There is some evidence that kinship carers do not feel comfortable within support groups established for foster carers often because of sensitivities about discussion of the part played by birth parents when they are also family members. Training opportunities are often not routinely extended to this group. Here too there may be personal resonances when discussing the impact of behaviour such as domestic violence, abuse and alcohol and drug misuse on the care of children and trainers need to be aware of this. Equally, contact issues which feature frequently in training for foster carers often have extra dimensions within kinship care.

Local authorities therefore need to address how they offer support and training to their kinship carers. This is also an area where the service provided may be equally relevant to kinship carers not directly covered by these regulations who are offering comparable care to vulnerable children who are not looked after but are recognised as children in need.

Kinship carers have identified the following as being supportive to them in their role as carers:

  • Emergency financial support;
  • Support to have Child Benefit transfer arranged as soon as possible;
  • Financial advice - access to specialist advice service at start of placement;
  • Support for kinship carers in poverty - to enable them to meet basic needs/clothing, food, shelter etc;
  • Advice to kinship carers about what legal arrangements would be the most advantageous to the child and them;
  • Sound advice about issues with legal documents/passports;
  • Responsive services from all corporate parents in a local authority, particularly education, housing, recreation;
  • At the initial stage, useful to have separate workers for a child and carers - but at later stage one person working with both child and carer confirms family focus;
  • Kinship carers want help when children ask awkward questions - Why am I different? What is happening?
  • Importance of the role of a lead professional to help carers to hold everything together;
  • Contact with other carers who understand their perspective;
  • If long-term, help if necessary in ensuring suitable accommodation;
  • Family group conference/Family meetings positive to help the family to meet and discuss issues in neutral supportive environment / opportunity to raise issues and find solutions , identify other family members who could offer some support to the main carers;
  • Information, support and training both on the birth parents' issues and handling the emotional and behavioural consequences for the child.

15. The Review of Kinship Carers' Approval

The regulations do not lay out requirements for reviews of kinship carers. To some extent, in comparison to foster carers there may be less emphasis for focussing upon development and skills development. However, kinship carers do have similar review needs to foster carers with regard to their support and training needs, and particularly for providing them with space to reflect on their position if the plan for the child's placement becomes more long-term than initially anticipated. Schedule 5 requires the local authority to put in writing their procedures and timescales for reviewing the child's placement with the kinship carers. This can be linked to the looked after reviews for children under the Child's Plan, but should allow time to focus on the carers' needs in their own right.

Good practice indicates that whether or not a child is looked after, if they are cared for within a kinship arrangement and the local authority continues to have some level of role or responsibility, then the carers need the opportunity at intervals to have an acknowledged space to reflect on the impact on themselves of caring for the child and to express any needs for support and advice.

Schedule 5 also requires local authorities to put in writing the financial support they offer and also the procedures available to kinship carers who wish to make representations to them. The details are not covered by regulations but the intention is to have a clearer, more robust framework for these placements. These agreements should be updated as individual local authorities develop their kinship carer schemes.

16. Notifications of placements

Regulation 13 sets out the responsibility of the local authority to provide notification of a placement with a kinship carer as soon as is reasonably practicable after the placement. The wording is the same as in regulation 29 in respect of notifications of children looked after by foster carers, covering health services, the local authority where the kinship carers live if different from the care authority, and persons with parental rights. Local authorities should already have well established procedures for this. These notifications should indicate the nature of the child's placement. This will link with ensuring good multi agency practice in all aspects of services for looked after children. As children in kinship care form an important group within the wider group of looked after children, all services need to be sensitive to their particular circumstances and familiar with that dimension of care.

17. Short term placements in kinship care

Regulation 14 replicates regulations governing short-term/ respite placements from the previous regulations which also apply to short term placements with foster carers. It is hard to know how many kinship carers will provide short breaks to looked after children but that may be built into the support plan for a kinship carer and the child.
Family meetings during the child's placement will be an appropriate forum for agreeing respite arrangements within the family and adherence to regulation 14 will be required if respite arrangements are regular and sufficiently frequent.

Local authorities will already have their established services for respite care of children with disabilities which may also support kinship carers. Local authorities should be clear about when they might consider members of a child's kinship network as respite carers and also when it may be appropriate to recognise family members as additional to the main full time kinship carer who may need robust support.

18. Case records for kinship carers

The introduction to this guidance to the regulations provides general comments that apply to all record keeping about looked after children and the different forms of care they need. In this Part, regulations 15 and 16 define the particular documents that form the basis of the working case record that must be retained, the confidentiality of such records and the period for which they must be retained.

The main content of the record will include the following:

  • The agreements entered into between the local authority and the kinship carers as noted in regulation 15(2).
  • Details of the children placed with the carers including the dates of the placements and the circumstances in which they ended.
  • The information gathered in respect of the decision to approve the carers.
  • The recommendations from the Panel and the decisions of the appropriate manager.
  • Any other ongoing case records as defined by the local authority in their procedures.

As with any other records, the local authority will be responsible for establishing and maintaining the standard of these records.

The regulations also specify that a record should be kept of any prospective kinship carer, the members of her/his household and family. Although not specified in regulations, local authorities should also maintain a record of the outcome of any such enquiries they made into the suitability of potential kinship carers. Where the local authority decided not to approve kinship carers the record should include copies of any letters written to the individuals informing them of this and the reasons. Where the individuals decide to withdraw, this should be acknowledged in writing and a copy kept on file.

Regulation 16 requires authorities to retain case records for kinship carers compiled under regulation 15 for least 25 years from the date that the placement with the kinship carer is terminated or until the death of the kinship carer, if that is earlier.

Regulation 16 does not mention case records for prospective kinship carers. Regulation 16 focuses on retention starting from the termination of a placement but says nothing about carers who have never had a placement. The parallel regulation for foster carer records does include retention of prospective foster carers' records for 25 years in regulation 32. Good practice would be to retain the records for prospective kinship carers at least during the period that the child who might have been placed with them continues to be looked after.

Young people who have spent many years being looked after in whatever placement may seek out information at a later date, both about placements made and also why certain decisions were made. This could include placements made at some point with kinship carers, even if they later moved to foster or residential care and also reasons why an offer of care from their family network was not progressed. Looked after children and young people who have been cared for by kinship carers under these regulations should expect the same level of service as all other children for whom the local authority has had responsibility including access to information and their care records.

Original written records or copies of them can be kept or records can be kept in computer systems.

The local authority has a responsibility to secure the safe-keeping of every case record and ensure as far as they possibly can, that the records are kept confidential. Exceptions to keeping the record confidential are specified and include where there is a court order requiring them to be produced or any other enactment that may require the records to be shared.