A review of kinship carer surveys
A review of kinship carer surveys
The "Cinderella" of the care system?
Across the English-speaking world, child protection authorities are increasingly placing children with extended family rather than in foster care or residential care. Many more children are in such arrangements informally. A number of surveys of kinship carers have been conducted in recent years in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. This paper systematically reviews these surveys to identify messages for policy and practice about the characteristics and support needs of kinship care families. Some comparisons are made with population studies of kinship care. The review will be of interest to Commonwealth and state government policy-makers, service providers and caseworkers, as well as kinship care families.
Kinship carer surveys tend to focus on grandparent care (61-100% of respondents across all surveys). A UK population study found, however, that less than half (47%) of familial kinship carers in Britain were grandparents; one-third (34%) were siblings and one-fifth (19%) were other relatives. There are no comparative Australian population figures.
The incidence of care by family friends ("kith") in Australia and elsewhere is unknown.
Over one-third of respondents in each survey were sole carers, usually female.
Financial hardship was reported by one-third or more of respondents in each survey.
Other problems reported by respondents included:
- high levels of physical and mental health issues;
- expensive and protracted legal contests over care arrangements for children, including multiple court cases;
- high levels of contact with children's mothers, fathers and other family members;
- a mixed picture of parental contact arrangements with many difficulties; and
- a myriad of unmet support needs including legal aid, respite care, emotional support, assistance with parental contact arrangement, help with children's schoolwork, and help for children with emotional and behavioural issues.
Despite the burdens of care, kinship carers expressed much joy and satisfaction in regard to their caring role.
Although low educational achievement has been widely observed among children in out-of-home care, in the two surveys that reported on children's education, more children than not were reported to be making good educational progress.
Authors and Acknowledgements
Meredith Kiraly is a psychologist with over 30 years practice experience, much of this in out-of-home care. She is a part-time Research Fellow in the Social Work Department at the University of Melbourne and has a small consultancy in human services. Her specialty research area is kinship care on which topic she has published extensively. Her work has a strong focus on children's rights.
Acknowledgements: The amassing of a large amount of collective knowledge of kinship care across three countries could not have happened without the active contribution of many people. I would like to thank the following people who made this review possible.
- Over 3,000 kinship carers in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, who generously gave time to complete survey questionnaires despite the demands of their caring roles.
- Dr Christiane Purcal, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, for advice regarding the systematic review process.
- Professor Cathy Humphreys, for support and encouragement in this and other kinship care research endeavours.
- The authors of the 13 surveys and three population studies, who all supported this review exercise. In particular, the following authors provided access to survey reports and assistance with interpretation of survey results, including clarifying national variations in terminology and governance arrangements: David Roth, Family Rights Group UK; Sarah Wellard, Grandparents Plus UK; Professor Elaine Farmer, University of Bristol UK; Sarah Vernon, Children 1st Scotland and Anne McLeish, Kinship Care Victoria.
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