Kinship care

Kinship care is where children who are unable to stay with their parents remain cared for within their extended families or by existing friends.

Buttle UK’s interest in 'informal' kinship care arose out of a desire to better understand a group who were coming to us regularly for financial help for basic household items, but seemed to be having a particularly difficult time and had very little in terms of other sources of support.

With little other published data on the group available, we decided to commission the University of Bristol to conduct ground-breaking new research into the extent and experiences of children living in informal kinship care arrangements in the UK. Our three-year study, funded by the Big Lottery Fund and published in 2013, revealed that in 2001 approximately 173,200 children were living with relatives, because their parents could no longer look after them. Of these, 90% were in informal arrangements, in other words, outside the ambit of statutory services.

Changes in policy and demographics mean this number has grown. Figures from the 2011 census for England have recently been released, showing a 7% increase in the number of children in kinship care, three times the population growth rate for all children in England.

With no statutory requirement for local authorities to make provision, few kinship carers receive formal support. Instead they have to make tight family budgets stretch. There is not even the automatic right to claim child benefit.

Our research demonstrated that the outcomes for children in kinship care are significantly more positive than those for children in formal care, but conversely the outcomes for the kinship carers themselves is far worse than for their peers. Most live in extreme financial hardship - almost a quarter could not put the heating on whenever they needed it, (in the general population this figure is just 1%), and 7% could not afford a daily hot meal for themselves.

In response to the research findings we are developing projects that help to meet the specific needs of children in these arrangements, and their carers.  We are currently able to offer extra support to kinship carers in Northern Ireland, and parts of Scotland and Wales. 

Buttle UK are grateful to the following for their support of this area of our work:


Key facts

173,200 children growing up with a kinship carer in the UK 2001 census

¼ of Kinship carers can’t afford to put the heating on at will. Buttle UK

43% of children in Kinship Care achieved 5 A*-C grades at GCSE compared to 13% in formal care. Buttle UK

The Poor Relations? Children and informal kinship carers speak out

Bev's story