Research and practice

Research has shown that:

Outcomes are positive for most children living in family and friends care, and considerably better than for children in unrelated foster care, e.g. the children are more securely attached to their carers, feel that they belong with their carers, and are confident they will be staying.

Family and friends carers show a high level of commitment.

Children in family and friends care have experienced similar adversities to those in the care system but they and their carers received much less support: almost all carers (95%) felt they could have been provided with more support, and most (72%) rated the support from Children’s Services as poor or very poor.

Although most children arrive at their carers with emotional and/or behavioural problems, where such problems exist they will improve or even disappear for four out of five children.

Four out of five family and friends carers lost income because they or their partner had to give up work or reduce their hours when they took in the child.

Sibling carers can show an extraordinary level of commitment to keeping their younger brothers and sisters out of care, but they struggle to get the support they need and be taken seriously.

Family and friends carers are mostly committed to children having plenty of contact with their parents, but sometimes social workers impose arrangements that are not right for the child.

Research plays a vital part in our campaigns, because it highlights the needs of children and their family and friends carers and whether these needs are being met, what works and what needs to be improved. We are at forefront of research into family and friends care in England and Wales.

In 2020 we have published new research reports on the experiences of kinship carers:


YFYV Report

New: Key findings from the last two decades of UK research on kinship care, December 2020

By Professor Joan Hunt and commissioned by Family Rights Group

This overview of UK research on kinship care was commissioned by Family Rights Group and formed part of a project funded by the John Ellerman Foundation. The rationale for this research overview was to draw together, into a single, publicly available document, all the research undertaken in the UK over the last two decade. The aim is that it will generate a comprehensive, reliable, and accessible knowledge base, which can be utilised by organisations working with, or on behalf of, kinship families and by the families themselves and the many peer-led groups.

Download the full report here.

ii. Family Rights Group on behalf of the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care have published a report based upon a survey of kinship carers during the Pandemic, entitled Kinship carers experiences during the coronavirus crisis, May 2020.

iii. Celcis, University of Strathclyde and Family Rights Group have also published The highs and lows of kinship care: supplementary analysis of a comprehensive survey of kinship carers in Scotland in 2019 (August 2020).

In 2019 we published a new research report:

i. Ashley C and Braun D (2019) The highs and lows of kinship care: analysis of a comprehensive survey of kinship carers (FRG). Based on information from 845 kinship carers raising at least 1252 kinship children, the report illustrates how many kinship carers experience an environment in which they feel done to, cajoled and put upon, despite trying to do their best for the children.

In 2017 we published a significant new research report:

i. Initial Family and Friends Care Assessment: A good practice guide (FRG in partnership with an expert working group). The guide sets out best practice as to how viability assessments should be conducted. It lists what factors social workers conducting the assessment need to consider, including when undertaking assessments with family members overseas. It also includes research evidence, a schedule and example template and an information sheet for a family and friends carers.

It is endorsed by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Family Justice Council and Cafcass.

In 2015 we published three research reports:

i. Ashley C, Aziz R and Braun D (2015) Doing the right thing: A report on the experiences of kinship carers(FRG). Family Rights Group's research found that almost half (49%) of kinship carers have had to give up work permanently to care for the kinchild, and a further 18% had to give up work temporarily. Our survey also found that 22% of kinship care households had 3 or more children aged 18 or under. 63% of these households currently receive child tax credit. 34% of these households receive housing benefit.

ii. Mercer A, Lindley B, Hopkins A, Edited by Ashley C (2015) Could do better... Must do better: A study of family and friends care local authority policies (FRG). The study analyses 53 family and friends care policies, to identify how they are complying with statutory family and friends care guidance and to highlight good practice. It includes a check list to assist local authorities to develop and improve their policies.

iii. Ashley C, Roth D (2015) What happens to siblings in the care system? (FRG). This report investigates the experience of siblings in the care system. It found that half (49.5%) of all sibling groups in local authority care are split up and that 37% of children in care who have at least one other sibling in care are living with none of their siblings. The research also found that although relatively few looked after children live with kinship foster carers, it appears to be particularly conducive to supporting siblings to be able to live together. The report sets out a series of recommendations to enable more siblings in care to live together, when it is in their welfare interests.

In 2013 we published two significant new research reports:

i. Hunt J and Waterhouse S (2013) It’s Just Not Fair! Support, need and legal status in family and friends care (FRG/Oxford University Centre for Family Law and Policy). Based on information from 249 legal and social work practitioners who provide or manage services for family and friends carers, this study shows that support provided to these carers and children is closely linked to the legal status of the arrangement, and not, as is stated in statutory guidance, on the basis of need.

ii. Roth, Aziz, Ashley and Lindley (2013) Relative Poverty: family and friends care in London (FRG) Multiple data sources are investigated, in order to build a picture of the extent to which family and friends carers in London are affected by poverty.

In 2012 we published four research reports, building a composite picture of family and friends care households, and the support provided to these carers and the children they are raising:

i. Hunt J and Waterhouse S (2012) Understanding family and friends care: the relationship between need, support and legal status (FRG/Oxford University Centre for Family Law and Policy). In depth interviews with 95 carer households

ii. Aziz R and Roth D (2012) Understanding family and friends care: analysis of the social and economic circumstances of family and friends carers (FRG). Analysis of Government’s “Understanding Society” carers survey of 77 kinship care children living in 68 households, contrasting them with other families from the same study

iii. Ashley C (Ed) Authors: Aziz R, Roth D and Lindley B (2012) Understanding family and friends care: The largest UK survey (FRG). An analysis of the response to an internet survey of family and friends carers of 495 family and friends carers’ households raising 762 kinship children.

iv. Ashley C (Ed) Authors: Roth D, Aziz R and Lindley B (2012) Understanding family and friends care: local authority policies – the good, the bad and the non existent (FRG) based on a Freedom of Information questionnaire sent in October 2011 and analysed in partnership with Grandparents Plus. The report finds that 45% of English local authorities have still not published a policy over five months after the deadline in the Government’s Statutory family and friends care guidance. It also analyses whether policies that have been published comply with the spirit of the guidance. We are publishing links to local authorities’ policies on our website, so you can easily find out if your own local authority’s has a policy.

We have carried out and published the results of the following research:

• David Roth, Bridget Lindley and Cathy Ashley (2011) Big Bruv, Little Sis (Family Rights Group). This publication sets out the findings from the first research study undertaken in the UK into the experiences of siblings who are raising their younger brothers and sisters. The publication includes in depth interviews with sibling carers, a web-based survey of carers, a chapter setting out the legal framework, as well as findings from an international literature review. Recent research has shown that more than a third of children in family and friends care are being raised by older siblings. Big Bruv Little Sis can be downloaded online or purchased from our on-line shop.

• David Roth, Jo Tunnard, Bridget Lindley, Alexander De Gaye and Cathy Ashley (2011) Managing Contact (Family Rights Group). This study of contact issues in family and friends care arrangements was based on interviews with carers, parents and practitioners, and an internet survey, and includes a comprehensive international literature review and a chapter setting out the legal framework. The report concludes by making good practice recommendations to deal with the issues that have been identified. Managing Contact can be downloaded online.

• Cathy Ashley (2010) The Harsh Reality - a survey on the financial circumstances of family and friends carers (Family Rights Group). A survey of 205 family and friends carers from 23 December 2009 to 13 January 2010 found that 35% of family and friends carers had left their job, lost their job or taken early retirement in order to raise these children, and over a quarter of had reduced their working hours or taken a lower graded job to cope with looking after the children. Another 8% said their partners had reduced their working hours. One grandparent carer stated that “I had to leave a well-paid job, I struggle every day with bills, I go hungry to feed my grandson... we - don’t have holidays, I have to go without any social life to afford to keep him.”

• Family Rights Group and University of Birmingham (2008) Report on Freedom of information survey of local authority policies on family and friends care. We sent a Freedom of Information questionnaire to all local authorities in England and Wales, to find out about their policies on family and friends care and the support they provide. We found that for most local authorities family and friends carers seemed to be a low priority. 69% of local authorities did not have a written, coherent approach to family and friends care, and most did not have any policy for dealing with these arrangements outside the care system. The findings informed the Government’s new family and friends care guidance.

• Mike Doolan, Paul Nixon and Patrice Lawrence (2004) Growing Up in the Care of Relatives or Friends – Delivering best practice for children in Family and Friends Care (Family Rights Group). Written for practitioners, managers and policy makers who want to improve practice and services for children in family and friends care, this book sets out findings from action research in two local authorities that consulted extensively with children, carers and social workers about ‘what works’ with this distinct care type. You can buy this from our online shop. You can be sent a free copy if you are a sibling carer. Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.if you would like a copy.

We have also produced the following good practice guides:

• David Roth (2010) Family and Friends Care: A Guide to Good Practice for Local Authorities in England. This guide makes a number of detailed, practical proposals on how local authorities could make sure that their family and friends carers are well supported. It includes chapters on the research evidence and legal framework for family and friends care, and suggests the principles that should form the basis for a family and friends care policy, and how these can be turned into practice. We recommend this guide to all policy-makers and practitioners working with family and friends carers.

• Clare Roskill (2008) Wider Family Matters (Family Rights Group) gives advice to family and friends carers, and the practitioners who work with them, about the practical and emotional issues facing these carers. You can download the guide, or you can be sent a free copy on request if you are a family and friends carer. For anybody else, it is still excellent value at a cost of £8. You can buy this from our online shop.

• Leonie Jordan and Bridget Lindley editors (2006) Special Guardianship (Family Rights Group). Including contributions by Lady Justice Hale, High Court Judge Sir James Munby, Professor June Thoburn, and grandparent carer Robin Derriman, this Family Rights Group Reader analyses the provisions for Special Guardianship and explores its potential use in meeting children’s long term needs when they cannot return home. You can buy this from our online shop.

• Alison Richards (2004) Getting Together – A guide to setting up and running a support group (Family Rights Group). This guide on setting up support groups is based very much on the suggestions of support group leaders. The guide is aimed at anyone who is bringing up their grandchild or young relative or friend's child and will also be useful for anyone who wishes to form a local support group. You can be sent a free copy on request if you are a family and friends carer. For anybody else, it is still excellent value at a cost of £5. You can buy this from our online shop.

We would particularly recommend the following important studies of family and friends care:

• Shailen Nandy, Julie Selwyn, Elaine Farmer and Paula Vaisey (2011) Spotlight on Kinship Care (University of Bristol). This is an analysis of information about the numbers of children living with family carers, based on the 2001 census. The data does not include children living with friends. It found that there were 173,200, of whom only 9,000 were in the care system. The numbers were particularly high in some areas, such as Newham and Tower Hamlets in London, and Manchester. There were also larger numbers for certain ages and ethnic groups, for example 1 in 9 African boys age 15-17 was found to be being raised by relatives. The report is part of a larger study of informal family and friends care, which is currently being carried out.

• Joan Hunt, Suzette Waterhouse and Eleanor Lutman (2008) Keeping them in the family: Outcomes for children placed in kinship care through care proceedings (BAAF). This study followed what happened to a group of children who were placed with family and friends carers as a result of care proceedings. It shows that family and friends carers provide good placements for many abused and neglected children, and recommends that it should be an option that is explored more often, at an earlier stage, for children coming into the care system.

• Elaine Farmer and Sue Moyers (2008)Kinship Care: Fostering Effective Family and Friends Placements (Jessica Kingsley). This study makes a comparison between children being raised by family and friends carers and children being raised by foster carers who were previously unknown to them. The two groups of children had experienced very similar problems before their placements. The family and friends carers had more difficulties than the foster carers, such as poverty, overcrowding, ill health and low levels of social work support. However, the children they were raising were doing as well as or better than the children in foster care. It seems likely that with better support the children could be doing even better.

Other Important Research