Kinship care is the full-time care of a child by a relative or another member of the extended family. This type of arrangement is the most common form of out of home care throughout the world and is typically arranged without formal legal proceedings. In many developing countries, it is essentially the only form of alternative family care available on a significant scale. In the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, kinship care is the primary mechanism that has enabled a vast majority of children who have lost both parents to remain in family care in their community.
Kinship care offers many advantages over other forms of care for children not able to live with their parents. It allows family relationships to continue, maintains the child within her culture and community, and avoids the anxieties related to placements with unfamiliar adults.
Kinship care is more successful with immediate family members, rather than distant relatives. Children may be treated differently than the caretaker’s own children, and exploited, abused or denied access to education and health services. Kinship care has also been shown to result in the delayed reunification of a child and parents, either because the family is comfortable with the situation, there are financial disincentives for returning the child, or social services are less active in moving the case forward.
In order to reduce the incidence of such problems, the use of kinship care should be appropriately monitored by the local authority or a protection agency. Children in kinship care have a right to protection and family support services. However, it must be recognized that kinship care has a positive effect on many children's lives. Placing requirements on kinship arrangements that unnecessarily intefere with or interrupt this traditional caretaking practice should be avoided.
Kinship care may be an option for child protection agencies to consider when a child is without adequate family care. The decision to use kinship care will depend on what is in the child’s best interests, and should involve a careful assessment of the child’s opinions, the family’s ability to care for the child, and permanency planning in order to work towards timely family reunification. Financial support is an area for debate since, while it can enable a family to care for a child, it may also encourage relatives to keep a child for monetary gain.
The resources found in this section provide policy guidance and country examples on the use of kinship care.