Kinship Care

Children's Views of Living with Informal Kinship Carers: Social networks, Stigmas, and Attachment to Carers

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This study funded by Big Lottery and undertaken in partnership between the University of Bristol and Buttle UK, a grant-giving charity for vulnerable children, aims to fill the gaps in our understanding of how children experience living with kins, and in particular how children in informal kinship care view their situation.

The first phase of the study used limited micro-data from the UK Population Census of 2001 to estimate the extent of kinship care in the UK in 2011 and to describe the characteristics of kinship carers and children. The findings from the analysis of the census revealed that most (95%) children are in informal kinship care arrangements in the UK, outside of the formal child welfare system. Children of minority ethnicity were over-represented in the informal kinship population and the second largest group of kinship carers (38%) was siblings.

The second phase of the study used interviews with kin carers and children to explore children and young people’s views of being brought up by informal kinship carers. Questions ranging in different dimensions of informal care were administered to examine the well-being of children in informal kinship care. The participants in phase two of the study were kinship carers bringing up a child aged 8-18 years who was not involved in the Child Welfare system and who had been living with the carer/s for at least 6 months.

A total of 200 carers were recruited and of their children more girls (n=47) than boys (n=33) were interviewed and the average age of the child was 12 years old. 31% of the children were aged 8-10 years, 29% each aged 11-13 and 14-16 years and 11% were aged 17-18 years. Although children had prior relationships with their kin carers, factors such as parents’ abuse of drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, maltreatment, death of parent/s, or abandonment of child led to the child finally moving in with the kin carer. When asked about how it is to live with their kin carers, most children (97%) answered positively. Overall, children in this study felt that they belonged in their kin families and that they would remain there as long as they wanted. They were also well attached to their kin carers and most had good numbers of people in their social networks. Nevertheless, the research also found that more than one-third (36%) of the children reported hurtful remarks from their peers for being brought up by relatives and friends. 60% of them said that only a few close friends knew about this care arrangement and 24% said they had not told their friends anything.

Therefore, children tightly controlled who they shared their care information with. The study found that most children in informal kinship care were living in poverty and very few of the carers had sufficient income to meet the minimum income standards that enable them to reach a socially acceptable standard of living in the UK (Hirsch 2011). Rates of long-term illness and disability amongst carers were high. Strikingly, the study found that although 73% of them had asked for help or advice from Children’s Services, only 23% received the help they requested; carers were often told that they were expected to manage without state assistance.

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