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Kinship care

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland only

Are you a kinship carer

All across Scotland, thousands of grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends care for children because their natural parents are unable to do so.

An example of kinship care is where a child moves in with a grandparent because their mum or dad is having problems with drugs or alcohol, but there are a variety of reasons for kinship care. If you're looking after a child like this – full time or most of the time – then you are a kinship carer.

You don't have to be related to a child to be a kinship carer but you must have a pre-existing relationship with the child. You can be a family friend, for example.

Kinship care is different to foster care and adoption. 

The rights and responsibilities of kinship carers can be complicated. Getting advice is important so you know about your options and if you are getting the practical and financial support that you are entitled to.

Getting advice and information on kinship care

There are several kinship care support services:

  • your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau - there are trained kinship care advice workers throughout Scotland who can refer you to a specialist kinship care adviser if required - where to get advice
  • the Kinship Care helpline - call 0808 800 0006 for confidential advice. Calls are free from landlines and most mobiles
  • the social work or children’s services department at your council - if the child you care for has recently been living in a different local authority, you'll normally need to deal with that local authority
  • Mentor UK's guide to kinship care in Scotland - available on the Mentor website
  • local support groups - you can meet up with other kinship carers to share experiences. The local authority or the Citizens Advice Bureau can help you find a group in your area.

Getting information and support from the local authority (council)

If you are a kinship carer, think you might become one or have moved on from being one, it is your right to ask the council what kinship care support, both practical and financial, they can provide.

You should never feel under pressure from the council to look after a child if you're not confident that you'll get the right support.

Contact the right local authority for help

The local authority with legal responsibility for the child may not be the local authority where you live.

For example, Sandy stays in Dunfermline and cares for her grandson Jamie, who is a Looked After Child. Jamie lived with his mum in Edinburgh until he was 2. Even though Sandy’s local authority is Fife Council, she needs to deal with Edinburgh Council for help looking after Jamie because they are the council that placed him with her.

Find contact details for the council through the mygov.scot website

Complaining about the local authority

If you're not happy with the way the local authority is dealing with you, you can complain. For more information about how to complain, see Children who need local authority services. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help with this - where to get advice.

Finding out if the child is 'Looked After'

To understand your rights, your benefit entitlements and the duties of the local authority to help you, you need to understand whether the child is legally Looked After by the local authority or not.

When the child isn't Looked After you may be referred to as an 'informal' kinship carer.

What 'Looked After' means

Some children in kinship care are formally Looked After by the local authority and some are not. It doesn't mean looked after in terms of being clothed, fed and loved on an everyday basis. It's a legal term that describes the duties the local authority has towards a child.

Generally the local authority has more legal duties to provide services to a child who is Looked After than a child who isn't. It can also make a difference to any money the local authority may give you to help you care for the child.

If a child is Looked After by the local authority it has certain 'parental rights' over the child, even though you are caring for them on a daily basis.

A child becomes Looked After as a result of a formal decision by the court, a Children’s Hearing or the local authority. This decision is made when there is serious concern about the welfare of the child, for example if their parent isn't able to care for them.

A child can stop being Looked After if a new decision is made by the court, a Children’s Hearing or the local authority. After the new decision is made, you may end up with more or less 'parental responsibility' for the child but the local authority may still have responsibility for the child.

For more information on issues related to being Looked After, see Children who are looked after by the local authority.

Looked AfterNot Looked After
The local authority has particular responsibility for the care of that child, even though they are living with you. The local authority has a duty to look out for the interests of the child, but this is the same duty they have towards all children in their area.

How to find out if a child is 'Looked After' or not

If you are unsure whether the child is Looked After or not, ask the social work / children’s services department. Social work staff will be familiar with the term Looked After and they should be able to give you a clear answer. Ask them to write to you, so you have a formal record of their answer.

If they are not able to help you, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

If you are a kinship carer for two or more children, the Looked After status of each child may be different. 

Rights and roles when the child is 'Looked After'

The child should...The kinship carer should...The local authority should...
  • be safe
  • have a child plan, overseen by the local authority, detailing who is responsible for their every day care
  • have access to education including additional support if they need it.
  • be supported throughout the process by the local authority
  • help write the child plan and be willing to work with social work to deliver the child plan
  • be fully informed of their entitlement to practical and financial help
  • be fully informed of their options at every stage.
  • make sure the child plan  is being delivered
  • assess safety and risk factors where the child is living
  • provide a kinship care allowance
  • inform kinship carers of their rights and options but not place them under undue pressure.

Financial help when the child is 'Looked After' (kinship care allowance)

All local authorities in Scotland make payments to kinship carers of Looked After children to help with the costs of raising the child. This is called kinship care allowance.                                         

Kinship carers of Looked After children should get the same financial support as foster carers in their area. 

Some kinship carers of not Looked After children can also be eligible for a kinship care allowance that is the same as the local fostering allowance.

Before 2015, local authorities were allowed to operate different rules and set different payment amounts for kinship carers, depending on the kinship care funds they have. This means that sometimes payments for different children in the same household will have been different and even payments to kinship carers in the same street may have been different.

If you currently get a kinship care allowance you should be contacted by your local authority to let you know how it will make sure you get the same payment as a foster carer in your area. The calculations that will have to be done could be complicated depending on your entitlement to Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. It's important to note that kinship carers of Looked After children aren't entitled to claim the Child Element of Universal Credit.

To check whether you're getting the right amount of kinship care allowance, contact your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) - where to get advice. If you can’t get to a CAB, call the confidential Kinship Care helpline on 0808 800 0006. Calls are free from landlines and most mobiles. Specialist advisers can help you to work through what may be happening to your kinship care allowance.

The rules for other benefits such as Housing Benefit and Pension Credit are also complicated. Your local CAB will be able to work through all your entitlements in detail.

The child stops being 'Looked After' by the local authority

At some stage, you or the local authority may want to discuss a child ceasing to be Looked After. For example, you may want more freedom to make decisions about the care of the child. Before making any decisions about this, make sure you get advice.

Some key things to ask about are:

  • the pros and cons of Residence Orders (kinship care orders), Permanence Orders and other options
  • whether you'll still get a kinship care allowance
  • how your benefits will be affected

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau and social work / children’s services will be able to help. You will probably want to talk to them both.

Not 'Looked After' children

Not Looked After doesn't mean the child is neglected in terms of being clothed, fed and loved on an everyday basis. It's a legal term that describes the duties the local authority has towards a child. The local authority has a duty to look out for the interests of a Not Looked After child, but it's the same duty they have towards all children in their area. They have more duties towards Looked After children. 

When the child isn't Looked After you may still be referred to as an 'informal' kinship carer. 

Kinship care allowance for Not 'Looked After' children

Local authorities in Scotland must pay a kinship care allowance to kinship carers of children who are Not Looked After if you have a residence order (also called a kinship care order) for the child living with you and  the child:

  • used to be a Looked After child, or
  • is or was at risk of becoming Looked After 
  • is or was placed in the kinship placement by the local authority.

These terms and what they actually mean for a kinship carer and a child in the family may be difficult to understand. The local authority has been given guidance by the Scottish Government about how to assess the wellbeing of a child and this may be the process that is used to assess a family when a child may be 'at risk'. See more about assessment of wellbeing

Benefits for Not 'Looked After' Children 

As a kinship carer of a child who is Not Looked After you may be able to claim:

  • Child Benefit - whatever your income
  • Child Tax Credit or the Child Element of Universal Credit - if you are on a low income. How much you receive will depend on your income.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has rules about who can claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. It is generally the person that the child 'regularly, usually, typically' lives with. This means that if the child lives in one home for three days of the week and the other for four days, for example, the person who cares for the child for four days will be eligible to claim.

Benefits for kinship carers are complicated. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice. You can also call the confidential Kinship Care helpline on 0808 800 0006. Calls are free from landlines and most mobiles.

Kinship care assistance if you have or may get a residence order (kinship care order)

Local authorities must provide kinship care assistance in such a way as to safeguard, support and promote the wellbeing of an eligible child.

What this means in practice is explained generally below but each local authority also has to provide public information about the kinship care assistance it provides (The Kinship Care Assistance (Scotland) Order 2016 no 153 - section 9). If your local authority has not provided this information it may be helpful to ask what its policy is.

You have the right as a kinship carer to ask the local authority for assistance, such as one-off payments, alternative care for the child while you take a break, etc.

The local authority may not always respond positively to requests, but they should always treat such requests with respect. If they do not, you can complain. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help with this. For more information about how to complain, see Children who need local authority services.

Person seeking assistance What the local authority must provide
Person is considering applying for a kinship care order Information and advice to help to decide about the kinship care order
Person is applying to court for a kinship care order Information and advice and financial support for the costs of the application
Child under 16 is subject to a kinship care order Information and advice
Person has a kinship care order Information and advice plus a kinship care allowance
Child of 16+ who was the subject of a kinship care order Information and advice and when the local authority thinks it is appropriate also a kinship care allowance
Person who is the child's guardian Information and advice about a kinship care order and provision of a kinship care allowance
Child who is at risk but going to be living with a guardian Information and advice about a kinship care order and provision of a kinship care allowance

If you are struggling to make kinship care work

If you are struggling to make the kinship care arrangement work, you can:

  • ask for extra support from the social work services or children’s services department
  • contact the Children’s Reporter who can convene a Children’s hearing to work out what is best for the child, see Children who are looked after by the local authority
  • call ParentLine Scotland on 0800 028 2233 for support
  • go to a kinship care support group in your area - ask the local Citizens Advice Bureau or council for details.

Contacting social work / children’s services or the Children’s Reporter does not mean a child will automatically be taken away from you and put into foster care, adopted out or put into residential care. No one wants to see this happen when solutions can be found within the family. What it does mean is that a proper assessment can be made of current arrangements in the best interests of the child.

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