Kinship care is when a child lives full time, or most of the time, with a relative or friend.
In the UK there are more than 180,000 children in kinship care, the majority of these are living with grandparents, but many also live with aunts and uncles, adult siblings or other adults who know the child. Within West Sussex, there are over 600 kinship families.
Types of kinship carers
A special guardian is a kinship carer who looks after children under a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) until they are 18 years old. Special guardians provide a permanent home for a child who can no longer live with their parents.
An SGO formally recognises one or more people as a ‘special guardian’ of the child. Although the child maintains links with their birth family, their special guardian(s) have most of the parental responsibility for them. Unlike an Adoption Order, the child maintains strong ties with their birth family.
This is where the child is living within the kinship network via an arrangement between the child’s parents and the kinship carers. Under a Child Arrangement Order (CAO), residence order or no order, the kinship carers have no parental responsibility for the child/children.
Connected person foster carer
Connected person foster carers can take on responsibility for looking after children on a day-to-day basis as an approved foster carer. Connected persons can be relatives, friends or another person connected to the child, for example a childminder, teacher or youth worker. More details can be found on our Types of fostering in West Sussex web page.
Benefits of kinship care
There are many reasons why children are in kinship care, most commonly because their parents are not able to look after them due to drug and alcohol abuse, poor mental health, domestic abuse, illness, abuse, neglect, or if the children’s parents are in prison or have died.
A kinship carer enables a child to grow up in a stable and loving environment, whilst maintaining relationships with the extended family network, without legally separating them from their birth parents.
The Independent review of children’s social care identifies that children placed in kinship care benefit from better adult outcomes - in relation to health, earnings and family life - than those place in other types of non-parental care (MacAlister, 2022).
2 Becoming a special guardian
The Special Guardianship Order (SGO) assessment is completed by an assessing social worker, who will visit your home and meet with you and your family members to find out if you would be a suitable special guardian. Sometimes it is necessary for an initial viability assessment to be completed before the full assessment starts. This is to make sure that the person/people applying are suitable to progress to the full SGO assessment.
The SGO assessment period is usually 12 weeks. It is detailed and will cover all aspects of your life from birth to current day. The assessing social worker will speak to people who know you who can provide references, for example your employer or your GP. You will also need to complete health and financial assessments. The local authority will complete a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check to determine your criminal record.
The process ensures that the court has the information they need to decide who will care for a child. If the court grants a SGO it is in place until they reach 18 years old.
Who can apply
Full details on who can apply are shown on GOV.UK.
How to apply
There is a legally agreed approach to applying for a Special Guardianship Order (SGO).
- Contact children's Integrated Front Door to find out whether you are eligible by phoning 01403 229900 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- Notify children's Integrated Front Door, three months before, of your intention to apply to the court for an SGO by emailing email@example.com. We will assess your suitability to become the child’s special guardian.
- Make an application to the court. If there are already legal proceedings about the child, the court may invite you to join in those proceedings.
- The court asks us to submit a report about your suitability. The report explores your background and other information, the merits of specifically applying for an SGO over other forms of care and the wishes of the child being considered.
- In some cases, birth parents will not agree with the SGO. If this happens you may need a solicitor to help with your application.
- The court considers your application and our report, and makes a decision.
For more information about the SGO assessment process, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Kinship Support team offers a two-day preparatory course for kinship carers who are thinking about, or in the process of, becoming a special guardian. The Prepare-to-Care course will enable you to learn and understand more about the SGO process, but also what support is available to you after the SGO is approved. It also offers advice on some of the behaviours you may see as your children grow up, and what to look out for. On the second day we also have a kinship carer attend who shares their experiences and can answer any of your questions.
To find out more about this course and the upcoming dates, please contact the Kinship Support team at email@example.com.
3 Support for kinship carers
West Sussex has a dedicated Kinship Support team which supports kinship carers who hold Special Guardianship and Child Arrangement Orders. The team also supports some families who are caring for a child where there is no legal order in place. Support is available to kinship carers who care for a child from birth up until their 18th birthday.
What we offer
- Welcome call and welcome pack for new special guardians.
- Monthly kinship support newsletter.
- Monthly kinship support coffee mornings:
- Worthing - first Wednesday of the month 11.00am - 12.30pm
- Crawley/Horsham - last Wednesday of the month 10.00am - 12 noon
- Bognor - third Monday of the month 10.00am - 12 noon
- Summer and winter parties, and celebration events for kinship families.
- Support Needs Assessment and Support Plan, to identify and provide support to the kinship carer(s).
- Application to therapeutic support via Adoption Support Fund (for previously Looked After Children), and CAMHS Therapeutic Access Panel.
- Advice regarding family time/contact including review meetings and mediation (not contact supervision or funding).
- Signposting, advice and guidance to kinship carers. With some direct support for housing, education and health.
- Consultation and advice for professionals in relation to supporting private SGO applications.
- Training, workshops and specialist therapeutic intervention with carers, and some direct work with children, including therapeutic life-story work
- Kinship carers peer mentoring.
- Big Brother Big Sister mentoring programme for children in kinship placements.
Once you have a Special Guardianship Order, you can claim both Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. If you are receiving these then you may also be eligible for a Special Guardianship Allowance paid by the local authority. This is means tested, and subject to annual re-assessment based on your family income.
How to access support
Contact the Kinship Support team or get out of hours support.
4 Contact with birth parents
Contact refers to any kind of communication between a child and their birth parents. Some kinship carers have an informal arrangement for contact and some have a legal agreement.
Changing contact arrangements
You can make changes contact arrangements, between children and other family members, when it's in the best interests of the child/children in your care. Contact doesn’t have to be face-to-face, and could be via letter, phone or video call.
If contact is arranged through a court order there will be legal requirements around the arrangements which may require a further court hearing for agreement.
Help with contact supervision
If you feel contact needs to be supervised but are not able to do so, there are several options. You could ask a trusted person, possibly another family member or a safe adult known to the child, to supervise.
You could use a contact centre or family centre which may also provide a contact supervisor (there is usually a cost associated with this that would need to be arranged between the family members involved).
Permission from birth parents
As a special gaudian, There are three key things which you cannot do without permission from everyone with parental responsibility: change the child’s surname; take the child out of the country for more than three months; put the child up for adoption.
Changing a child's school
As a special guardian you can make most important decisions without agreement from a child’s birth parents, including which school they attend.
Support with decision making
A mediator is a person who is not on anyone’s side who can help keep the discussion focussed on what is best for the child, rather than the opinions of any adult involved. Mediators don’t make any decisions, but they try to help the adults involved come to an agreement between themselves. This approach can be useful in situations of conflict and disagreement.
We offer support around contact arrangements, including mediation. Contact the team on firstname.lastname@example.org if you require support.
- Kinship is the leading kinship care charity in England and Wales.
- Kinship Compass is an independent online information, advice and support hub just for kinship carers.
- Coram BAAF has a range of resources for special guardians.
- Family Rights Group promotes policies and practices that keep children safe within their family and strengthen the family and community networks of those children who cannot live at home.
- The National Association of Therapeutic Parents is a support network for parents of children who have experienced early life trauma or whose children present with neurodivergent characteristics.
- Beacon House has free resources regarding trauma and adversity.
- Therapeutic Life Story Work
- Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy
- Video Interaction Guidance
- Drawing and Talking Therapy
Connected persons foster carers
- Reaching Families Benefit Advice Service provides support to parents of children and young people with SEND in West Sussex applying for Carers Allowance, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Personal Independent Payments (PIP).
- Cost of living support
- Citizens Advice
Holiday activities and food programme
- The Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme operates during the Easter, Summer and Christmas holidays.
- The West Sussex Local Offer helps you find information about local services, support and events for children and young people aged 0-25 years who have special educational needs or disabilities (SEND).