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The financial support available for family and friends
A briefing paper has been published by the House of Commons Library considering the help that can be offered to grandparents, family and friend carers (otherwise known as kinship carers), who look after children where their parents are unable to do so.
There are several types of arrangements for family and friends care, these vary between; private arrangements, family and friends local authority foster care, child arrangement orders and special guardianship orders.
However, the eligibility for this may depend upon the care arrangement and financial assistance may be means-tested.
Local Authority Support
The legal nature of the arrangement is what determines whether a family or friend carer qualifies for support from a local authority.
Local authority foster carers
Local authorities have a statutory duty to encourage the upbringing of children who are in need by their family.
Therefore, the authority is obliged to arrange for the children to live with one of the following, providing it is practicable and in favour of the child’s welfare;
- Their parent
- A person who is not a parent but who has parental responsibility for the child
- Where a child arrangements order in force is in force immediately prior to the child being taken into care, the person named in this order as the person with whom the child was to live
If it is not possible for the child to live with one of the individuals mentioned above, the local authority must then place the child in ‘’the most appropriate placement available.’’ ‘’Placement’’ in these instances is defined as living;
- With a ‘relative, friend or other person connected with [the child] and who is also a local authority foster parent.’’
- With a local authority foster parent who is not connected to the child
- In a children’s home
- In ‘’other arrangements’’ in accordance with regulations
In order to be classed as a local authority foster parent, the individual must be approved as such by the placing authority or by another fostering service provider. They are then entitled to an allowance to cover the cost of caring for the children in their home.
The Children Act 1989 defines private fostering where a child under the age of 16 (18 if they have a disability) is placed in the care of someone who is not their parent, somebody else who has parental responsibility for them or a close relative, for 28 days or more.
In these cases, local authorities do not have a duty arrange a private fostering placement.
Although, they have a duty to the children involved in these arrangements, such as carrying out criminal records checks.
There is no automatic right to financial assistance from the local authority. The parent will essentially remain financially responsible for the child. However, the foster carer will potentially be able to claim benefits for the child.
Private non-statutory arrangements
Such an arrangement includes, for example, when a child’s parent has asked a close relative to care for their child, though there is no involvement from the local authorities. This arrangement can be made when;
- The child is a non-disabled child over 16
- The child is cared for, and provided with accommodation by either:
- A parent (with or without parental responsibility)
- A person who is not a parent, but who has parental responsibility or
- a relative
- The child is accommodated by the person caring for him for less than 28 days and that person does not intend to accommodate him for a period of 28 days or more
- The child concerned comes within the exemptions specified by CA (Children Act) 1989, Sch 8.
If the conditions mentioned above cannot be fulfilled, but the local authority is not involved in arranging the placement, it is therefore deemed a private statutory arrangement.
In these circumstances, the local authority is not obliged to provide financial support to the carers, although they have a discretion under section 17 of the CA to provide financial assistance for children assessed as in need.
Both family and friend carers may apply to the courts for orders which provide legal recognition of a caring arrangement.
Child Arrangements Orders
This order relating to who a child should live with, made under section 8 of the CA 1989, deliberates parental responsibility on the holder of the order.
The holder of the order relating to residence could be entitled to contributions from the local authority towards accommodation costs and the maintenance of the child. Although, these payments are at the discretion of the local authority and there is no entitlement to a child arrangements order allowance. Additionally, these payments may not be made if the person concerned is the child’s parent or the husband, wife or civil partner of the parent.
Moreover, the holder of the order will also be entitled to claim Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits if applicable. The local authorities have power to pay an allowance to a carer with a Child Arrangements Order, although they are most likely to pay this if the child was previously looked after by the local authority.
Special Guardianship Orders
These provisions were introduced by the Adoption and Children Act 2002, aiming to allow a child to be placed with a non-parent with a degree of permanence greater than a residence order, but less final than adoption. A special guardian has parental responsibility for a child.
The Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 set out duties owed by local authorities to provide support services to special guardians. Financial support in these circumstances may be offered for one-off expenditure or on a more regular basis, although financial support will mainly be based on the child’s support needs. When considering financial support, the local authorities will consider the guardian’s means.
Regulation 7 provides that, where the special guardian previously fostered the child and received an element of remuneration in the financial support paid to them as the child’s foster parent, then the local authority may continue to pay that element of remuneration for two years from the date of the special guardianship order. This two year period is intended to give the family time to adjust to these new circumstances.
The Special Guardianship Guidance for England, in relation to ongoing financial support for the child, states:
In determining the amount of any ongoing financial support, the local authority should have regard to the amount of fostering allowance which would have been payable if the child were fostered. The local authority’s core allowance plus any enhancement that would be payable in respect of the particular child, will make up the maximum payment the local authority could consider paying the family. Any means test carried out as appropriate to the circumstances would use this maximum payment as a basis.