Introducing kinship care – why peer support matters

In this introductory episode of the Kinship Together podcast, Kinship's Chief Executive Lucy Peake explains kinship care, how peer support groups work and the fantastic impact groups can have on carers and their families.

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In this first episode of Kinship Together, Kinship’s Chief Executive Lucy Peake explains what kinship care is, why it’s so important, and how peer support can have an incredible impact on people’s lives.

Having worked with kinship carers for many years, Lucy offers insight into the way support groups work, as well as their potential for change. That change applies to individuals and families, but also wider society and even government policy.

Finally, this introduction episode also see Lucy talks about the progress made by Kinship over the last decade, including how she sees kinship care developing in the future.

Read the transcript

The text below is a direct transcription of this episode of the Kinship Together podcast.

Welcome to Kinship Together, a podcast that shares stories, experiences, and advice for kinship carers. Brought to you by Kinship, the charity for kinship carers in England and Wales. This first episode features a conversation with Lucy Peake, Chief Executive at Kinship, who explains what kinship care is, how Kinship supports kinship carers, and the impact peer support groups can have, not just on kinship carers and their families, but sometimes on government policy too.  

In the following episodes in this new podcast series, you’ll find out what it means to be a kinship carer from people who are going through the experience. This includes the highs and lows, and the everyday challenges. All the kinship carers we speak to have found that meeting other kinship carers has brought them connection, friendships and emotional support. 

We’ll hear why peer support and volunteering have brought such meaning and sense of belonging to our guests. Whether that be attending local groups, talking together on the phone or connecting online, there is great power in facing challenges together. And that’s one of the most important things that kinship carers tell us they need – emotional support and the feeling that you’re not alone. We’ll also ask every guest to share their moments of joy as a kinship carer, those things that make it all worthwhile. Hopefully you’ll pick out some useful advice along the way too.  

But first, let’s start Kinship Together by speaking to Kinship’s Chief Executive, Lucy Peake. Lucy joined Kinship, then Grandparents Plus, as Chief Executive in September 2015. She has since overseen a merger, strategic review and name change to reflect the charity’s focus on transforming support for kinship families. During this time, the charity has grown in size and impact, including through pioneering evidence-informed programmes, expanding peer support approaches, and influencing policy and practice. 

Here’s our chat with Lucy.

Iain Broome: Thanks for joining us today, Lucy. I wonder if we could start by perhaps talking about your role. 

Lucy Peake: I’m the Chief Executive at Kinship. I’ve been here since September 2015, so quite a long time, and I’ve seen the organisation grow quite considerably during that time. But what’s really brilliant about my role is that I still have really sort of meaningful relationships with kinship carers, so I’m kind of grounded as a CEO. I’m really lucky that there are kinship carers that I’ve known since I started here who’ve been working with us and I talk to regularly, as well as new people who come into the organisation. So that bit’s really important that I, as much as I have to look after things like the finance of the organisation and, you know, the HR and oversee all of those things, I still have relationships with the people that we’re here for. 

Iain Broome: And what is a kinship carer? 

Lucy Peake: So, kinship carers can be grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins, brothers or sisters, or other members of the family or friends who’ve stepped up to take responsibility for raising somebody else’s child, often in a family crisis. So, it can happen really like overnight for some people, or sometimes with a little bit of warning. But it’s not the same as fostering and adoption where you make that conscious choice, “This is something I want to do and I’m going to go and do some training to become a foster carer or to adopt”. It’s something where often people are just, they’re thrown into it by circumstances. They’re driven often by love, so there’s a request, “Will you take this child?” and they step forward and they take that child, and then are left trying to work through, “Okay, what does this mean for me, for my family, for the child, for the future?”. The thing to remember about kinship care is that it is, there’s far more kinship carers than there are foster carers. And so, if we look at numbers of children, we think there are around 160,000 children in kinship care in England and Wales. And that’s more than twice as many as in foster care. But we just don’t hear about these children and these carers as much. They are relatively invisible, and that’s one of the things that Kinship wants to do is to make sure that kinship care is better understood. So, when people become kinship carers, they know where they can go for help. 

Iain Broome: And, what are some of the most common reasons for a child needing kinship care? 

Lucy Peake: So usually there is some kind of crisis within the family. So often of the families that we support, social services will have been involved in the child’s life, and there will have been help to try to keep that child within their family with their parents, but then a decision’s often made that that’s just not safe for them. So, it could be because of things like drug and alcohol misuse or domestic abuse. Often things which just make it unfortunately not safe for the child, but there are other cases where there’s just an event which happens. So, you know, sometimes children are in kinship care because their parents died. And that might have been, you know, somebody might have been able to make plans but also, you know, sadly those things just can happen. So, kinship care can happen for all kinds of reasons. One thing we would always say is that what the children have in common is they’ve all experienced the trauma of being separated from their parent, and that means that they might need additional support. 

Iain Broome: Yeah, and what kind of support does Kinship offer? In Kinship, the charity, what kind of support do you kind of most commonly offer? 

Lucy Peake: So, kinship carers need support from the beginning when they become kinship carers right through to their children moving on. And, you know, into independence and hopefully, you know, successful kind of home, relationships and everything, that we would hope for all of our children. So, what we do initially, we try to get kinship carers the advice and information that they need at that early stage so they can make an informed choice. So, there are different kinds of legal orders that kinship carers can have and sometimes they don’t have a legal order at all. So, it’s really important that they can find independent advice which enables them to understand their options and make informed choices. So, some carers will choose to become a foster carer. Others might choose to have a special guardianship order. Others might decide, actually for my family, it’s right that I don’t have a legal order because, you know, the parents are still involved in the child’s life and I want them to, the child hopefully to go back to the parents. So, I think at the beginning it’s really about very, very clear and tailored information and advice about your circumstances. After that, I think, kinship carers move into that space of often feeling quite isolated and sometimes quite lonely. We know that about half of kinship carers are giving up work when they take on the child. They don’t have the same rights to paid leave as people do when they adopt, and many of us will just, they will reduce their hours. And the consequence of that is that they’re suddenly living a different life from the one they were. So, they have less money, they’ve lost their work colleagues and friends, and because they have less money and they’re looking after young children often, they can’t do the social things that they were doing. Often, you know, particularly grandparents will say, “I’m out of step with my generation. All my friends are, you know, they don’t have children anymore. They don’t have to worry about babysitters. And, you know, now I do and I can’t afford a babysitter”. So, there’s almost like this kind of loneliness as a consequence of becoming a kinship carer that happens. And from that point, things like peer support groups are just so, so important. Because firstly, you are with people who really understand what you’re going through. So, carers will say to us, “I, you know, I’m with people who’ve, they’ve walked in my shoes, they really get it”. Secondly, it’s a place where new friendships are made. You know, I think for lots of people, when you become a parent, you know lots of other people are becoming parents, and you do things with those families, and your children grow up with them. Peer support groups give that same opportunity to kinship families. So, carers will talk about how important it is for them to have people that they have things in common with, and who really understand them. But also for their children, and it’s really important for children who are maybe raised by their grandparents to say, “Actually, I know other people who were raised by their grandparents too, and it’s fine, it’s normal”. You know, carers talk quite a lot about how important that is, that their children see other children like them. 

Iain Broome: And also for kinship carers, that’s also, for them a peer support group is an opportunity to speak to and learn from people who are going through the same experience.  

Lucy Peake: Yeah, it’s hugely important. So, I mean, I think, what happens in a peer support group is there’s this exchange of information and advice and practical support, which it just gives people the tools that they need to go forward. But there’s also, like confidence building. So, what might happen, you’re in a situation you really hadn’t planned for, it’s literally changed your life overnight. And then you can see people who’ve gone through that too, and they’ve come out the other side. You know, they’ve got their life in order. They’ve made their plans. You know, “The children are going to be with me till they’re 18 and beyond”. And they’re kind of, there’s a strength in that, in that community, I think, and a real kind of power of seeing those people together. I mean, there’s a kinship carer who I’ve known a long time, and she describes becoming a kinship carer like being hit by a juggernaut. You know, it happened so fast, and it changed her life so significantly and she felt on her own until she went to a peer support group. She went with her husband, and it was the first time she saw her husband talk about what was happening, and he cried. And that for their family was like a turning point. And I think there’s so many carers who talk about that place, that safe place where they can say what’s really happening and be understood. So, you know, carers will talk about how that help felt for themselves, how it felt for their partner. They’ll talk about going to a peer support group and then going home and bursting into tears because there’s that kind of relief of like, “Finally, people get it”. So yeah, I think there’s a huge thing about advice, information, exchange of practical support, confidence building. And then for us the other bit, the magic also of peer support groups is people. It’s not just about a cup of tea and a hug. I mean those things are really important. It’s also about the collective power of kinship carers, and so many of our kinship carers they go to those peer support groups and when they’re ready, they move into supporting each other. And then they’ll move into saying, “Actually, I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’ve gone through, and I’m going to change things”. So, peer support groups at Kinship are places where we bring Members of Parliament in. We talk about our campaigning and our influencing work, where we really, we connect kinship carers as change agents, and we’re really proud of that work. And kinship carers have been, you know, they’ve been nominated for a Big Issue award, which, you know, is, we hope that they will win because they are driving change on so many fronts. They are ensuring that kinship carers are seen, so they’re less visible, that policy makers, that service providers understand them more, and you know, that will be transformational for the kinship carers and the children in the future. 

Iain Broome: And of course, there are those kinship carers who start off in exactly the situation you described. Not knowing anything about the situation that they’re in, finding a group, attending, getting lots of value out of it, and then they go on to, some of them go on to become group leaders or to set up their own group. It feels like there’s that sense of, well, it’s community, isn’t it? The word is community, that sense of wanting to kind of pass on what you’ve learnt and your experience to others, which I think kind of is really important. 

Lucy Peake: Yeah, massively. And, I think that’s what’s been so important to Kinship over the years, that we have found those kinship carers who are willing to do that. Being a kinship carer is not easy. There are many, many challenges, but there is that incredibly generous spirit amongst kinship carers to step up, not just for your child and your family, but to step up for the community of kinship carers and say, “Actually, I’m going to do this” because I think it probably is really rewarding. You know, and I, you know, I think lots of group leaders, it’s a great place to be, but actually you are transforming the way that people experience the system which isn’t very well designed for them. And it’s that, there’s hundreds of kinship carers across England and Wales who are doing that. And so we have this growing network of peer support groups which meet in person, also online. And these kind of trusted relationships with kinship carers through our group leaders, which means that as an organisation, we can connect with people, you know, right across the country, and try to understand their needs and work with them to advocate for the support that they need in the future. 

Iain Broome: Yeah, I was going to ask that. So, what kind of support does Kinship provide peer support groups? How does that relationship work?  

Lucy Peake: The reason why we support peer support groups is because kinship carers have told us this is what they want. And, as well as that, we have really strong evidence that it makes a difference. Within the system, we see this as a key part of how a well-designed kinship care support system should be. That, of course, you need to be able to access legal advice at some times, you need to get advice from schools, and so on. But actually, within your community, the way you’re living your life, meeting with others, being together, understanding your circumstances, makes a huge difference. So, we as an organisation have pioneered really the growing kinship care peer support in England, in particular. And it started in the North East of England where we began our work, I think it was 2012. We started working in Tyne and Wear on a small pilot developing peer support groups. And really from that pilot, we then moved across the whole of the North East region, and set up about 25 groups in the North East. And they were supported by our on-the-ground project workers. And that’s really our model that we’ve grown. So, what we do as an organisation is we have some members of our team who are experts in helping peer support groups set up to be sustainable into the future. So, our workers will help carers who come forward to think about what kind of location, how the group might be set up, some things like, you know, understanding health and safety, and equality and diversity. Those things which are really important actually when you’re thinking about how you pull a group together. And then helping them to think about how they’re going to communicate with kinship carers so that they know that their group is there, how they’re going to set up those groups, run those groups, who they might want to invite into those groups. So, there’s this almost like regional support that’s happening for those local groups to get them to a stage when they are sustainable and can be run by group leaders themselves. What we know is those group leaders also need to have some ongoing support from us. So that’s really where our national offer comes at Kinship. We have lots of training that we will offer. We have lots of resources. We bring group leaders together so that they can almost be a peer support to each other so that they’re learning, they are sharing, they’re solving each other’s problems. And so that there’s these different layers of what we do and we’re, you know, we think a lot about what digital technology can do for us as well in this space. So how can we use things like Kinship Compass, which is our advice and information hub for kinship carers, to make sure that kinship care peer support group leaders have access to the things that their carers might need. They are really, they’re being asked all kinds of things and it’s really important that they’re equipped with the right advice and the right information that they can share with group members. 

Iain Broome: One of the things I think from speaking to kinship carers that always comes across is how, yes, there is all of this kind of information. But one of the things that the groups does, and having that connection with other kinship carers, is to kind of add the story to it, to give it the context. 

Lucy Peake: Yeah, I think there’s definitely that thing about, you know, we’re all in the same boat. And the truth is, that it is not an easy system to navigate as a kinship carer. So, the support that’s offered differs depending on your legal order, where you live, all of these factors. So actually, if you can be with people who live in the same place as you, they can help you to say, “Actually, if you want help with a particular issue, here’s the organisation who can help you locally”, or, “If you need to go and talk to somebody in the local authority, this is the name of the kinship care lead in the local authority”. So, I think it does unlock things in a different way because it’s very, it’s very tailored to place, isn’t it? But as you say, it’s also about lived experience. And sometimes, because it’s a really hard system to navigate and people do feel they have to fight to get support, knowing that somebody else has kind of followed that path first, and they’ve got to the end of it, and they’ve got the support for their child, that’s inspiring and it does build confidence, “Let’s do this, and we’ll be with you as you go along that pathway as well”. 

Iain Broome: And what kind of other impact might groups have on say, visitors? I know that some groups have speakers come and they have people come and attend to kind of listen in on people’s stories. What kind of impact can that have more widely? 

Lucy Peake: I’ve witnessed so many incredible moments in peer support groups. So, for example, I can think of a session in the North East of England where an MP came. One of the men who spoke, you know, he’d worked in the steelworks, he’d become a kinship carer, he’d lost his job, and he stood up, a really physically strong man, and he cried. And that moment is like a heart stopping moment where everybody kind of sits back. And that included the MP in that area. And I then have heard her in the House of Commons telling his story. And she became one of the biggest champions for kinship care in Parliament. And I think there is something for MPs, they might know about kinship care, they might have heard it. But something happens when they’re in a room of kinship carers, there’s a, it can be quite an emotionally charged space. It hits people and I think they leave that room understanding kinship care in a way they hadn’t before. And as much as kinship carers are helping each other in those moments, they’re also connecting with other people in the system who can make change happen. And so, as an organisation we have a campaign called Value Our Love which was developed with kinship carers. And across England and Wales, we are working with kinship carers who are, they’re sharing their stories to campaign for change. And we are bringing MPs into peer support groups so that more MPs have that same experience. So, we get more advocates in Parliament, we get more people who really, really care. The other thing that happens, I think, again, I can think of groups where they have worked really, really constructively with local authorities. So, in Newcastle, for example, the peer support group, they were hearing lots and lots of stories about what carers weren’t getting from the council. So, they were really struggling with a lack of clear information about what the council could provide them with. So, what the group did with our support was work with the council and say, “Let’s do this, let’s tackle this together, let’s work on better information”. So, the carers have been meeting with really senior people at the City Council helping them to draft really good website information, test it with their carers, get it up on the website. It’s really transformational, it’s kind of, it’s relatively easy stuff to do. But what we would say is, it takes the council sort of recognising that actually we can solve some of these really difficult issues if we work with the kinship carers in the peer support group. So, yeah, really see them. They are places where people are gaining individual strength, you know, routes to advice and information, building their own confidence. But it’s like, what does that group achieve as a whole, that’s a real transformation coming. 

Iain Broome: Just thinking about the future, even in sort of the time that Kinship has existed, things have changed enormously. What do you see as the future of kind of kinship care? Maybe the immediate future. But also, how peer support groups and that side of supporting kinship carers, how that might develop as well. 

Lucy Peake: There’s been the care review, and then there’s been the government strategy for the first time focusing on kinship care. So, there is a spotlight on kinship care in a way there hasn’t been before. And I think what’s been really important about that is there is a recognition that kinship carers are a key part of the children’s social care system. So almost like seeing the scale of kinship care, but also the recognition that outcomes for children in kinship care are generally better than if those children went into the care system. We’re very clear that it makes sense to invest in well supported kinship care. Now the opportunity we have, it’s a very poorly developed system at the moment so we can work with kinship carers to build that system. And we’re saying to the government, “Let’s have a really long-term vision about where we want to get to” which actually is, more children could be in well-supported kinship care and fewer in the care system if we invest in this, if we make sure that the kinship carers and their children have support. So, part of that is about government setting out very clearly what kind of rights kinship carers should all have, so we would like allowances for all kinship carers, just like foster carers get. We would like kinship carers to have the right to paid leave from work, like adoptive parents get so they don’t have to drop out of the labour market, and they’re not plunged into poverty. But we’re also saying that there must be more support for their children, so if you think of children’s lives, kinship carers want support for their children in school, they want access to that therapeutic support they might need because of their early experiences. And kinship carers themselves need practical and emotional support. And we are very clear that that’s where peer support can add real value. So, we would love to see commitment long-term to supporting a national peer support service across England and Wales. So that means, you know, wherever you live, you have access to the support you need. You can choose to go to a peer support group. It could be one structured around geography, so some of our groups are structured like that, or it could be around your experiences, or your identity. So, we have groups for men because they often feel that they’re the minority in kinship care. And our men’s group, I’ve met quite a few of the men’s group and they’ll all say, “It’s really brilliant, you know, we share things on WhatsApp, we sometimes meet online”. They’re getting something out of that which speaks to them as male carers. And then we have other groups where it’s a group where carers who are looking after children for a particular reason can come together. So it might be that they are carers who have experienced the loss of a child. That’s why they’re kinship carers for their grandchildren. And there are this set of particular issues and challenges that they want to talk to each other about together. So, we need this really diverse and vibrant sort of peer support group structure across the country, and I think that’s got to be part, a really key element of what a really well-supported kinship care system looks like. We’re not letting anyone off the hook here because we do think there’s a role for local authorities and for national government. There’s a role for us nationally to provide advice and information, but there’s also this unbelievable capacity within kinship carers themselves to come together to support each other and to make a massive life changing difference to each other. So, we should be embracing that and saying, you know, “Let’s grow this, let’s make sure wherever you live, you have access to a peer support group”.

So that was Lucy Peake, Chief Executive at Kinship. If you’re a kinship carer, or you know a kinship carer and want to learn more about the support we offer at Kinship, visit our website at

Our free phone advice line is for kinship carers living in England or Wales. You can call us, book an appointment or search online for information tailored to your situation. You can attend free workshops on specific topics related to kinship care. You can get emotional support by finding a peer support group near you using our postcode finder. We also have a range of online support groups, including some for kinship carers who want to talk to others that they have specific things in common with. Maybe you’d like to start a group of your own. You could become a volunteer, like many of our guests on this podcast, and use your experience to help other kinship carers by offering them a listening ear and sharing your experiences with them. Thank you for listening to Kinship Together. Join us for our next episode, where we speak to our first kinship carer and hear their unique story.