Are you in a position where you are caring for the child of a relative? Are you receiving all of the support to which you are entitled? Read more to get pointers from Associate Solicitor and Family Law expert, Julie Brown, to better understand your rights.
What is kinship care?
Kinship care is where a person is caring for a relative’s child, often in cases where the child would otherwise be placed in Local Authority foster care.
What rights do kinship carers have if the Local Authority were involved in placing the child in their care?
If the Local Authority were involved in placing the child into a kinship placement, they may have a duty to provide the carer with an allowance, regardless of their income. The amount of this weekly payment is dependent upon the child’s age and the number of children who are being cared for. (The payment will be excluding benefits that the carer(s) may be entitled to for the child/children). Unfortunately, Local Authorities often do not volunteer this funding, so it is important for individuals to seek legal advice. Legal aid may be available, depending upon your financial circumstances and we can help you find out whether you are entitled to support. The right to receive a kinship allowance may change once a legal order securing the child’s placement with the carer is made. Carers may be entitled to other payments to help with the care of the child/children or to buy certain items required to care for them.
Securing the child’s long term placement with a kinship carer
If the child is unable to return home, the kinship carers may want to secure the child’s placement in their care, if they are able to commit to this. There are four possible ways to do this: –
1. Child Arrangements Order
Previously called a Residence Order, this option will secure the child’s placement with the carer until the age of eighteen (or until an order is made by the Court terminating the Child Arrangements Order). It provides the carer with shared parental responsibility for the child (shared with the mother, and the father if he has parental responsibility).
The Local Authority may provide financial assistance but it is not guaranteed, often not provided, or only provided for a short period of time. It is therefore important to get legal advice on this.
2. Special Guardianship Order
This order also secures the child’s placement with the Carer until they are eighteen or an order is made by the Court ending it. It is a more secure order than a Child Arrangements Order, as it is more difficult for a parent to challenge it with the Court. There is an additional hurdle to overcome in that the person making the application must require the permission of the Court first. It also provides the kinship carers with greater parental responsibility, meaning that they can override certain decisions without the parents’ agreement.
The Local Authority have a duty to assess the support services available, including financial support. This is subject to regular reviews by the Local Authority, and carers may seek legal advice if the payments are reduced or stopped to see if this is something which could be challenged.
3. Care Order in favour of the Local Authority
This order essentially places the child in the care of the Local Authority, and the kinship carers would be regarded as Local Authority foster carers for the child. It would be the Local Authority, not the carers, who would share parental responsibility with the parents for the child. They would also be responsible for the important decisions relating to the care of the child although the kinship carers would still be able to make the day to day decisions.
A kinship carer cannot apply to the Court for a Care Order, the Order will only be made if there are existing Court Proceedings, brought by the Local Authority. The kinship carers would still be entitled to foster carer’s allowance but the child would remain in care and would be subject to regular reviews and medicals. It is uncommon for a Care Order to be made if a child will remain in a kinship placement, but at times it is regarded as the most appropriate, in the best interests of the child.
Adoption ends the parents’ responsibility, rights and duties and the adopters become the legal parents of the child. It is highly unusual for kinship carers to adopt child/children in their care and normally the child’s parents will continue to hold parental responsibility for them.
Other matters to consider
If child/children live with you under one of the orders above, you can apply for benefits for the child, such as child benefit and tax credits.
If you are a kinship carer, you should think about creating a Will, as the child/children you are caring for (unless adopted) will not automatically have the same rights as a biological child. You might also look into appointing a Guardian for them in the event of your death, to avoid the child being placed into foster care.