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Children in kinship foster care have higher wellbeing compared to those in unrelated foster care

Analysis of the views and experiences of children and young people in kinship foster care finds that they are doing better or at least as well as those in unrelated foster care.

06/03/23

Children in kinship foster care have higher wellbeing compared to those in unrelated foster care

A new survey of 1,200 children and young people in kinship foster care has found numerous positive wellbeing indicators.

Spanning 38 local authorities, responses to the survey found that, on a number of wellbeing indicators, children (4-10 years) and young people (11-18 years) in kinship foster care were doing better or at least as well as those in unrelated foster care and that on some indicators they scored the same or better than their peers in the general population.

The findings reinforce existing evidence that kinship care can be a positive experience for children who cannot remain with their birth parents and support current guidance to give preference to suitable placements with family and friends.

Relationships with kinship carers were generally very positive with the majority of children (94%) and young people (91%) reporting that their carers were sensitive to their feelings.

Nearly all (98%) of the youngest children (4-7 years), 89% of children aged 8-10 years, and 87% of young people aged 11-18 trusted their carers ‘always or most of the time’. Young people in kinship foster care also reported talking more frequently to their carers about things that mattered to them compared with those in unrelated care (71% compared to 64%).

Young people in kinship foster care reported more positively that the things they did in life were worthwhile than those in unrelated foster care (74% compared to 67%). Having a sense of purpose and meaning in life is an important indicator of positive functioning and a protective factor against risky behaviours and poor mental health.

However, there are also a number of well-being indicators on which children and young people in kinship foster care score rated themselves lower than those in unrelated care. There is a common assumption that kinship care is less stigmatising than other forms of substitute care. Yet there was a higher percentage (over a quarter) of kinship children and young people who felt afraid to go to school because of bullying.

Compared to the 5% in unrelated foster care, significantly more of those in kinship foster care (8%) disliked their bedrooms. There were complaints of overcrowding and comments about their carers having financial difficulties. Lack of space may also have been a reason why fewer kinship children (65%) lived with a pet compared with 71% in unrelated foster care.

Relationships with social workers were more complicated. Children in kinship foster care were less likely to know their social worker than those in unrelated care (87% compared to 92%). Some of the comments left by young people revealed that they thought the social worker was for their relatives and not for them and some did not know they had a social worker.

Only half of those aged 11-18 years were placed directly with their kinship carer. More than a third (35%) had lived in two to four previous placements, and nearly one in ten (9%) had five or more placements before moving in with their kinship carer.

Based on the research findings, the authors recommend that that every child knows who their social worker is, how to contact them and that social workers visit regularly and see children on their own. Other recommendations included ensuring that a child’s first placement is their only placement by searching for and assessing relatives or friends as quickly as possible; and review contact plans regularly with children and young people and make sure they know where to turn if they are unhappy with how often they are seeing key people in their lives.

Linda Briheim-Crookall, Head of Policy and Practice Development at Coram Voice, said the findings support current practice to prioritise kinship placements where possible, but stressed the importance of not treating all children in care as if they are the same.

“Services need to carefully consider the areas of greater difficulty and complexity for kinship children such as accommodation, financial support, bullying at school and relationships with social workers,” Ms Briheim-Crookall said.

Julie Selwyn, Professor of Education and Adoption at The Rees Centre at University of Oxford, which worked with Coram Voice on the research said: “Most children in kinship foster care are happy and feel that their lives are going well. Yet too many start by having multiple placements.”

“Social workers and agencies need to prioritise locating relatives and friends who are able to care for the child and ensure that there is adequate support to make it happen.”

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