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Around 200,000 children in the UK are currently being raised by their grandparents for many reasons, but often as a result of family difficulties, death or illness. Here is our guide to kinship care, how it's arranged and who can provide it.
Kinship care is an arrangement that sees a child living with a family member full time, instead of their parents. Often they will live with their grandparents. There is a bewildering array of different legal arrangements and names for this, which mainly have to do with what happens after the arrangement ends. To make matters worse, local authorities and other official bodies you may deal with use a variety of terms, such as 'kinship care', 'family and friends care' or 'care by a connected person' which may mean different things in different local authorities. You may want to ask for clarification if terms like this are used to describe your arrangement.
The decision to opt for kinship care may be made by social services or arranged between the parents and intended carers themselves, privately.
This is where the child's parents make a private arrangement for him/her to be raised by another family member. Although the local authority may have assisted the family with coming to this arrangement, a child in a private arrangement would not be in care or under any legal order. The parents are the only ones with parental responsibility, and would be able to remove the children whenever they chose. Carers in this position would not need to be approved as foster carers by the local authority.
Family and friends foster care
This is an arrangement made by the local authority, rather than the child's parents. The child is placed, by the local authority, with a family member or friend who is approved as a foster carer. If the child is coming into care, and you are not already approved as a foster carer, the local authority can give temporary approval for 16 weeks while they carry out a fostering assessment, so the child can still be placed with a family member right away.
This is a court order settling the child's living arrangements, and lasts until the child is 18. You're entitled to apply for a residence order if the child has lived with you for a year, otherwise you have to get a court's permission to apply. A residence order does what it says on the tin - it establishes who the child is to live with. The person with the residence order has parental responsibility for as long as the order lasts, but the parents do not lose their own parental responsibility.
This is more permanent than a residence order. Grandparents can apply to be special guardians if the child has lived with them for a year, if they already have a residence order, or if the people who already have parental responsibility agree to them applying. If they don't meet these requirements, and the child is in local authority care, the local authority would need to agree to their application. A special guardianship order gives you parental responsibility, although it doesn't remove parental responsibility from the child's parents. If you're a special guardian you have the power to appoint another person to be the child's guardian after death, in your will or in writing.
Adoption is the final step, which transfers all parental responsibility away from the parents to you. For children living with grandparents, special guardianship will often be preferred to adoption: the changes to family relationship which can result from grandparents becoming legally the child's parents could be confusing for the child.
Raising a child is expensive and often grandparents will need some sort of financial support in order to manage - especially if the local authority requires one grandparent to give up work in order to take care of the grandchild (which is sometimes the case).
What you're entitled to will depend in part on your financial circumstances, but here are some of the ways in which you might be able to get some help:
Child Benefit - available to anyone looking after an under-16 (or young person up to 20 who is in training or education) full time. Child Benefit can only be claimed by one peson, so the parent cannot continue to claim Child Benefit after guardianship has passed to the grandparent. This benefit is not available to those in receipt of a fostering allowance, however. If you're still working, the resulting National Insurance credits will count towards your State Pension, and they could still count if you're not working or are on a low income. Find out more here.
Child Tax Credit - available whether you are working or not, provided you are looking after an under-16 or a young person up to 20 years old who is in education or training. You can claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit at the same time, and you will be assessed as to how much you can claim. find out more here.
Contact your local authority, so that they can assess your financial situation and advise what you might be entitled to.