Families and communities have always played an important role in raising children. Nurturing and caring for children is an essential element of the extended family life and taken for granted in most cultures.

What is kinship care?

In recent times there has been a shift to formalise the care given to children by relatives and other supportive adults when birth parents are unable to cope, or have shown that they cannot care appropriately for their children.

The term kinship care refers to a range of more or less formal arrangements whereby children reside with, and are cared for by, relatives, family friends or community members with the same cultural ties. Where children are placed in such arrangements as a result of a court order, with parental responsibility transferred to the Minister or designated agency, they are deemed to be in statutory care within the Out-of-Home Care (OOHC) Program. In this context, carers are funded to care for the child and agencies are funded to work with families to support both the child and the carer. Where kinship care arrangements arise without State or legal intervention – usually by agreement within the family – they are deemed to be supported or voluntary kinship carers. While there may be some funding directed to carers to support the child, our Children's Family Centres may also be able to assist kinship carers.

Increasingly, kinship care placements are being seen as preferable to foster care for children removed from their parents by the State. The benefits of being with family members who have an emotional investment in their progress, the stability of the placements, the increased likelihood of being able to place siblings together, and the importance of maintaining continuity in children’s lives – both personal and cultural – mean that kinship care provides an environment that is beneficial for children. Of course, there is also a downside – kin carers tend to be older (often grandparents), may be financially disadvantaged, often have health problems of their own and may be dealing with the family grief of children having to be removed in the first place. Kinship carers can be placed in conflict with other family members – often their own children – and have to face a lifestyle they were not expecting to have at this stage of their lives.

Whatever the status of the kinship care placement – voluntary, supported or statutory – there is usually a need, at least in the initial stages, for some sort of external support, whether it be from a peer support group, a community support service (family support or neighbourhood centre, for example), or an out-of-home care agency.