What is kinship care?

Learn all about kinship care, including what it means, why it is so important and the different types of kinship carer.

Kinship care is when a child lives full-time or most of the time with a relative or close family friend, usually because their parents are not able to care for them. In the UK, there are more than 180,000 children in kinship care.

Grandparents are the most common kinship carers, but older siblings, aunts, uncles, and people who know the child well can also take on the role.

You might see kinship carers referred to as ‘family and friends carers’ or ‘connected people’ by local authorities and in some documents.

If you are new to kinship care, you may find it useful to read advice on preparing for being a kinship carer.

Why children need kinship care

Most children are in kinship care because their parents are not able to look after them.

Research shows that around half of children are in kinship care because their parents have had problems with drugs or alcohol. Children may also need kinship care if their parents die, go to prison, or they are abusive, neglectful or unwell.

Many children in kinship care will have experienced trauma. A kinship carer provides a stable home life where they can grow and develop in a safe, positive environment. They also get to stay in their existing family network, which helps maintain them maintain their sense of identity and family relationships.

Types of kinship care

There are different types of kinship care. You may become a different type of kinship carer as your situation changes over time. Your rights, responsibilities and the support you can get will depend on your specific circumstances.

Informal arrangements

An informal kinship care arrangement is where you look after a child but you do not have parental responsibility and they are not in the care of your local council’s children’s services department. The child’s parents will usually help make and agree how the arrangement works.

Learn about informal arrangements

Special guardianship orders

A special guardianship order (SGO) is a legal order given by a family court. When you become a special guardian, the child will live with you permanently until they are 18 years old. Special guardians share parental responsibility with the child’s parents, but can make nearly all major decisions about the child without asking for their permission.

Learn about special guardianship orders

Child arrangements orders

A child arrangements order, previously called a residencies order, is a legal order given by a family court. They usually last until the child is 18 years old and you share parental responsibility with their parents. You can make day-to-day decisions without needing their parents’ permission, but must include them in any big decisions about the child.

Learn about child arrangement orders

Family and friends foster care

Kinship foster care is when a family member or friend becomes a child’s official foster carer. You must be assessed and approved before the child comes to live with you. The child is considered ‘looked after’ by the local authority, which shares parental responsibility with the child’s parents.

Learn about family and friends foster care

Private foster care

Private fostering is when someone who is not a child’s parent or close relative, such as a great aunt, cousin, mum’s friend or neighbour), looks after them for 28 days or more.

Private fostering arrangements are agreed by the parent and private foster carer and not the local authority. As a private foster carer, you may be asked to make day-to-day decisions for the child, but you do not have parental responsibility.

Learn more about private foster care


Adoption is not appropriate or recommended for most kinship carers. When you adopt a child, the link between the child and their birth parents is legally and permanently broken – it changes family arrangements forever. As an adopter, you gain complete parental responsibility for the child.

Learn more about adoption

Support from Kinship

Here at Kinship, we offer a range of free support for all kinship carers, including workshops, online advice and information, and peer support groups.

Contact our advice service to speak to an adviser or book an appointment.