Kinship care is one of a number of potential routes to permanence for children and young people, both through informal arrangements made between relatives (around 97% of kinship care in England [Nandy et al, 2011]) and through statutory care systems.
A growing body of research underpins calls for the recognition and support of kinship care to be on a par with that provided for other forms of placement, equally valued, and informed by common principles in planning to meet children’s lifetime needs (e.g. Care Inquiry, 2013).
In reality, formal support (i.e. support provided by services) for kinship carers is under-resourced and limited. Informal (family, friends and community) support varies, but is often strained by challenges and risks in relation to the birth parents which made kinship care a necessity in the first place.
Family relationships are seen to support a long term commitment to sometimes quite troubled children and young people, including support beyond the age of 18, often starkly absent for those leaving other forms of care.
In England most children (64% in 2013) are placed with unrelated foster carers, with kinship care around 11% of all placements (DfE, 2013). The UK government’s recent national policy drive to increase adoption rates has been tempered by a number of judicial decisions, and family-based solutions (including kinship care, residence orders and Special Guardianship) appear to be on the increase.
Kinship carers get less formal support than non-kin carers (Hunt, 2009) and a minority of those requesting formal support receive any (Farmer et al, 2013). Improved understanding of the types of support valued by kinship carers will help build provision; the current study, conducted in Spain, adds a small new element of research findings to this discussion.
International comparisons of placement options bring to light fascinating variations, generated through historical, social and cultural difference. Kinship care is the most frequent placement option for children and young people in Spain (47%) with a high proportion (45%) in residential care and only 8% in unrelated foster care (Selman & Mason, 2005).
The article’s rather ponderous start offers definitions of formal and informal social support and their influence on family resilience. The study’s aim is to
discover more about social support as a resilience mechanism in kinship care families by analysing the impact of an educational group programme for kinship carers.
The content, frequency and length of the learning programme for kinship foster families (LPKFF) are not elucidated.
The study involved pre and post LPKFF interviews and with 62 families recruited by child protection services from four areas of Spain. The pre-interview stats suggest 85 families were in the initial sample; whether they withdrew from the research, the LPKFF or both is not stated. Eight focus groups were held six months after the LPKFF.
Analysis was conducted using Atlas-Ti V6 2 software with further analysis by five researchers and a pair of ‘judges’ reading analysis and codification.
This paper outlines themes recognisable from studies in the UK (e.g. Farmer et al, 2013; Hunt & Waterhouse, 2012; Lutman et al, 2009; Nandy et al, 2011). Kinship carers are frequently grandparents – hence relatively old and often with additional health needs. Poverty is highly prevalent for these carers, as for families involved with child protection overall (Bywaters, 2014). Carers’ working lives are often severely disrupted, giving up work or reducing hours to be more available for the child.
The graphs referred to in the text were not included in the draft article which makes close analysis difficult.
The findings showed an increase in use and perception of formal support – a finding that seems a little tautologous in that participants had just taken part in a learning programme. After the programme participants felt better able to rely on and access formal support and more attuned to professional input as support rather than scrutiny or criticism. Participants’ use and perception of informal (wider family and friends) support changed less as a result of the programme.
Interestingly, the participants valued the formal support programme (LPKFF) as a source of informal support via the networks the programme generated, thereby ‘transform[ing] the programme into a forum of informal support’.
The opportunity to share experiences with others in similar situations was a key factor participants valued of the LPKFF and echoes responses in a London study where carers were also particularly appreciative of being listened to, emotional support and knowing that there was someone to whom they could turn (Saunders & Selwyn, 2008).
The authors conclude that the these factors contribute to family resilience
- ‘feeling able to look for solutions when faced with problems;
- an increase of their network of formal support;
- being able to offer support to other foster families; and
- feeling that the support they give to parents’ foster children is socially recognized.’
Strengths and limitations
The study is a fairly small scale analysis of 67 families. While responses were sought at six months after the LPKFF their caring responsibilities are for the long haul. An indication of what (if any) access to ongoing support was provided beyond the LPKFF would enhance the value of the research.
It is also worth noting that carers experiencing significant social isolation are likely to express positive responses to even very limited or poorly targeted support or networking opportunities.
The research methods did not include any attempt to enhance carers’ subjective responses with data on, for instance, placement stability. The perspectives of the children and young people themselves were absent.
Strengths-based work with families is proving an effective basis for improved engagement, empathy and shared understanding between carers, families and professionals.
Practice and service development should include ensuring that non-stigmatised, clearly signposted means to access formal support are available to kinship carers.
The opportunity to bring together carers to build networks and hear others relate similar challenges may be something that localities and regions might build with positive results for all concerned.
Fuentes-Peláez, N., Balsells, M., Fernández, J., Vaquero, E. and Amorós, P. (2014). The social support in kinship foster care: a way to enhance resilience. Child & Family Social Work. doi: 10.1111/cfs.12182 [Abstract]
Bywaters P (2014). Child Poverty: the role of children’s services. Dartington: Research in Practice
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Farmer E, Selwyn J, and Meakings S.J (2013) ‘Other children say you’re not normal because you don’t live with your parents’: Children’s views of living with informal kinship carers. Child and Family Social Work, 18 (1), 25-34. [Abstract]
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Lutman E, Hunt J, and Waterhouse S (2009) Placement stability for children in kinship care: A long-term follow-up of children placed in kinship care through care proceedings. Adoption and Fostering, 33(3). [Abstract]
Nandy S, Selwyn J, Farmer E and Vaisey P (2011) Spotlight on Kinship Care: Using Census microdata to examine the extent and nature of kinship care in the UK at the turn of the twentieth century. Bristol: University of Bristol.
Saunders H and Selwyn J (2009) Supporting informal kinship care. Adoption and Fostering, 32(2), 31-42. [Abstract]
Selman P and Mason K (2005). Alternatives to adoption for looked after children: report to Adoption Law Review Group of Scottish Executive. Edinburgh: Scottish Executive.
The Care Inquiry (2013) Making Not Breaking. Building relationships for our most vulnerable children. London: Nuffield Foundation. [Full Text]