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Kinship care

This advice applies to Scotland

This information applies to Scotland.

Coronavirus – schools and childcare

Schools in Scotland are open and pupils should be at school full time. 

All types of childcare, including nurseries and childminders, can reopen. Check arrangements with your childcare provider.

Coronavirus advice for families

There's more advice for families on the Parent Club website.

Are you a kinship carer

Across Scotland, thousands of grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends care for children because their natural parents are unable to do so.

Kinship care is different to foster care and adoption. 

An example of kinship care is where a child moves in with a grandparent because their mum or dad is having problems with drugs or alcohol. But there are lots of reasons for kinship care. If you're looking after a child like this – full time or most of the time – then you are a kinship carer.

You don't have to be related to a child to be a kinship carer but you must have a pre-existing relationship with the child. You can be a family friend, for example.

The rights and responsibilities of kinship carers can be complicated. Getting advice is important so you know about your options and if you are getting the practical and financial support that you are entitled to.

Getting advice and information on kinship care

If you need advice and information about kinship care, you can contact the National Kinship Care Advice service for Scotland:

National Kinship Care Advice service for Scotland
Helpline: 0808 800 0006 (Monday to Friday 9am-5pm)
Email: scotland@adoptionuk.org.uk
Website: kinship.scot

You can also get information and support from:

  • your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau - find out where to get advice
  • the social work or children’s services department at your council - if the child you care for has recently been living in a different local council, you'll normally need to deal with that local council
  • local support groups - you can meet up with other kinship carers to share experiences. The local council or the Citizens Advice Bureau can help you find a group in your area.

Getting information and support from the local council

If you are a kinship carer, think you might become one or have moved on from being one, it is your right to ask the council what kinship care support, both practical and financial, they can provide.

You should never feel under pressure from the council to look after a child if you're not confident that you'll get the right support.

Contact the right local council for help

The local council with legal responsibility for the child may not be the local council where you live.

For example, Sandy stays in Dunfermline and cares for her grandson Jamie, who is a Looked After Child. Jamie lived with his mum in Edinburgh until he was 2. Even though Sandy’s local council is Fife Council, she needs to deal with Edinburgh Council for help looking after Jamie because they are the council that placed him with her.

Find contact details for the council on the mygov.scot

Complaining about the local council

If you're not happy with the way the local council is dealing with you, you can complain. For more information about how to complain, see Children who need local authority services. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help with this, check where to get advice.

Finding out if the child is 'Looked After'

To understand your rights, your benefit entitlements and the duties of the local council to help you, you need to understand whether the child is legally Looked After by the local council or not.

When the child isn't Looked After you may be referred to as an 'informal' kinship carer.

What 'Looked After' means

Some children in kinship care are formally Looked After by the local council and some are not. It doesn't mean looked after in terms of being clothed, fed and loved on an everyday basis. It's a legal term that describes the duties the local council has towards a child.

Generally the local council has more legal duties to provide services to a child who is Looked After than a child who isn't. It can also make a difference to any money the local council may give you to help you care for the child.

If a child is Looked After by the local council it has certain 'parental rights' over the child, even though you are caring for them on a daily basis.

A child becomes Looked After as a result of a formal decision by the court, a Children’s Hearing or the local council. This decision is made when there is serious concern about the welfare of the child, for example if their parent isn't able to care for them.

A child can stop being Looked After if a new decision is made by the court, a Children’s Hearing or the local council. After the new decision is made, you may end up with more or less 'parental responsibility' for the child but the local council may still have responsibility for the child.

For more information on issues related to being Looked After, see Children who are looked after by the local authority.

Looked AfterNot Looked After
The local council has particular responsibility for the care of that child, even though they are living with you. The local council has a duty to look out for the interests of the child, but this is the same duty they have towards all children in their area.

How to find out if a child is 'Looked After' or not

If you are unsure whether the child is Looked After or not, ask the social work / children’s services department. Social work staff will be familiar with the term Looked After and they should be able to give you a clear answer. Ask them to write to you, so you have a formal record of their answer.

If they are not able to help you, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or the National Kinship Care Advice service for Scotland helpline.

If you are a kinship carer for two or more children, the Looked After status of each child may be different. 

Rights and roles when the child is 'Looked After'

The child should...The kinship carer should...The local council should...
  • be safe
  • have a child plan, overseen by the local council, detailing who is responsible for their every day care
  • have access to education including additional support if they need it.
  • be supported throughout the process by the local council
  • help write the child plan and be willing to work with social work to deliver the child plan
  • be fully informed of their entitlement to practical and financial help
  • be fully informed of their options at every stage.
  • make sure the child plan  is being delivered
  • assess safety and risk factors where the child is living
  • provide a kinship care allowance
  • inform kinship carers of their rights and options but not place them under undue pressure.

Financial help when the child is 'Looked After' 

All local councils in Scotland make payments to kinship carers of Looked After children to help with the costs of raising the child. This is called a kinship care allowance.                 

Kinship carers of Looked After children should get the same rate as the local fostering allowance. 

Some kinship carers of not Looked After children can also be eligible for a kinship care allowance that is the same as the local fostering allowance.

If you currently get a kinship care allowance you should be contacted by your local council to let you know how it will make sure you get the same payment as a foster carer in your area. The calculations that will have to be done could be complicated depending on your entitlement to Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. It's important to note that kinship carers of Looked After children aren't entitled to claim the Child Element of Universal Credit. This is because of the legal relationship the child has with the local council.

To check whether you're getting the right amount of kinship care allowance, contact your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice. If you can’t get to a Citizens Advice Bureau, call the confidential National Kinship Care Advice service for Scotland helpline. Calls are free from landlines and most mobiles. Specialist advisers can help you to work through what may be happening to your kinship care allowance.

Other benefits

The rules for other benefits such as Housing Benefit and Pension Credit are also complicated. You may be eligible for a Child addition in Pension Credit, for example, if you have a permanence order. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to work through all your entitlements in detail.

The Best Start Grant is a package of three payments to help parents and carers on low incomes with the costs of having a child in the family. You might be eligible to apply for a Best Start Grant payment. Find out more about the Best Start Grant.

You might be eligible for a Scottish Child Payment. This a Scottish benefit for parents and carers on low incomes who have a child under six. Read more about the Scottish Child Payment.

The child stops being 'Looked After' by the local council 

At some stage, you or the local council might want to discuss a child ceasing to be Looked After. For example, you might want more freedom to make decisions about the care of the child. Before making any decisions about this, make sure you get advice.

Some key things to ask about are:

  • the pros and cons of Permanence Orders, Residence Orders (called kinship care orders when the court agrees to one for a kinship carer), and other options
  • whether you'll still get a kinship care allowance
  • how your benefits will be affected

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau and social work or children’s services will be able to help. You will probably want to talk to them both.

Not 'Looked After' children

Not Looked After doesn't mean the child is neglected in terms of being clothed, fed and loved on an everyday basis. It's a legal term that describes the duties the local council has towards a child. The local council has a duty to look out for the interests of a Not Looked After child, but it's the same duty they have towards all children in their area. They have more duties towards Looked After children. 

When the child isn't Looked After you may still be referred to as an 'informal' kinship carer. 

Kinship care allowance for Not 'Looked After' children

Local councils in Scotland must pay a kinship care allowance to kinship carers of children who are Not Looked After if you have a residence order (also called a kinship care order) for the child living with you and the child:

  • used to be a Looked After child, or
  • is or was at risk of becoming Looked After 
  • is or was placed in the kinship placement by the local council.

These terms and what they actually mean for a kinship carer and a child in the family might be difficult to understand. The local council has been given guidance by the Scottish government about how to assess the wellbeing of a child and this might be the process that is used to assess a family when a child may be 'at risk'. See more about assessment of wellbeing

Benefits for Not 'Looked After' Children 

As a kinship carer of a child who is Not Looked After you might be able to claim:

  • Child Benefit - whatever your income
  • Child Tax Credit or the Child Element of Universal Credit - if you're on a low income. How much you receive will depend on your income
  • Child addition in Pension Credit – if you are over pension credit age and on a low income
  • Best Start Grant  - a package of three payments to help parents and carers on low incomes with the costs of having a child in the family. More about the Best Start Grant
  • Scottish Child Payment - if you're on a low income and caring for a child under six. Read more about the Scottish Child Payment.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has rules about who can claim Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit and Child addition in Pension Credit. It is generally the person that the child 'regularly, usually, typically' lives with. This means that if the child lives in one home for three days of the week and the other for four days, for example, the person who cares for the child for four days will be eligible to claim.

Benefits for kinship carers are complicated. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau to get advice. You can also call the confidential National Kinship Care Advice service for Scotland helpline.

Kinship care assistance if you have or may get a residence order (kinship care order)

Local councils must provide kinship care assistance in such a way as to safeguard, support and promote the wellbeing of an eligible child.

What this means in practice is explained generally below but each local council also has to provide public information about the kinship care assistance it provides (The Kinship Care Assistance (Scotland) Order 2016 no 153 - section 9). If your local council has not provided this information it might be helpful to ask what its policy is.

You have the right as a kinship carer to ask the local council for assistance, such as one-off payments, alternative care for the child while you take a break.

The local council might not always respond positively to requests, but they should always treat such requests with respect. If they do not, you can complain. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help with this. For more information about how to complain, see Children who need local authority services.

Person seeking assistance What the local council must provide
Person is considering applying for a kinship care order Information and advice to help to decide about the kinship care order
Person is applying to court for a kinship care order Information and advice and financial support for the costs of the application
Child under 16 is subject to a kinship care order Information and advice
Person has a kinship care order Information and advice plus a kinship care allowance
Child of 16+ who was the subject of a kinship care order Information and advice and when the local council thinks it is appropriate also a kinship care allowance
Person who is the child's guardian Information and advice about a kinship care order and provision of a kinship care allowance
Child who is at risk but going to be living with a guardian Information and advice about a kinship care order and provision of a kinship care allowance

Baby Box scheme

All newborn babies in Scotland are entitled to their own Baby Box. Kinship carers can register for a Baby Box through their appointed social worker if they’re caring for a child between 0 and 6 months.

The Baby Box has essential items such as:

  • clothing
  • a digital ear thermometer
  • a changing mat
  • a mattress to fit the box - with mattress protector and a fitted sheet.

There is more information and helpline details for the Baby Box on the ParentClub website.

If you are struggling to make kinship care work

If you are struggling to make the kinship care arrangement work, you can:

  • ask for extra support from the social work services or children’s services department
  • contact the Children’s Reporter who can convene a Children’s hearing to work out what is best for the child, see Children who are looked after by the local authority
  • call ParentLine Scotland on 0800 028 2233 for general support and practical advice about parenting or caring for a child
  • go to a kinship care support group in your area - ask the local Citizens Advice Bureau or council for details.

Contacting social work, children’s services, or the Children’s Reporter does not mean a child will automatically be taken away from you and put into foster care, adopted out or put into residential care. No one wants to see this happen when solutions can be found within the family. It means that a proper assessment can be made of current arrangements in the best interests of the child.

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