Growing up in kinship care: Exploring the needs, experiences, and outcomes of formal kinship care

Why are we doing this?

Children and young people with care experience are among the most vulnerable in our society. There are a number of different living arrangements that children and young people who live away from their parents can experience, including the more commonly known foster care, adoptive care, and residential care. However, there is an increasing trend of children and young people who cannot live with their parents being supported by local authorities to live with extended family or close friends. This is known as formal kinship care.

In the year 2019-20, 31% of children who could not live with their parents were living in formal kinship care, up from just 20% in 2010. As the number of young people living in formal kinship care increases, it is important that we better understand their experiences. So in 2020, the ESRC funded the Growing Up in Kinship Care study through the Scottish Centre for Administrative Data Research. The goal of this study was to link administrative data from a range of sources to help us learn about the journeys, experiences, and outcomes of children and young people in kinship care.

What we will do

This project will link data from a wide range of sources, including datasets held by different government divisions including health, education, child protection, and looked after children. It will also incorporate data held by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration on the Children’s Hearings system. It is important that when we do this work we make sure that children and young people are protected and anonymous. That means we must ensure that no individual can be identified and that the data is not used for anything other than this project. To achieve this, we are using thorough data governance processes and the Safe Haven system managed by National Records of Scotland and the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre so that individual children can never be identified within the data.

This study will develop our understanding of the impacts of formal kinship care. It will show us overall patterns in care journeys, service use, and outcomes which will help government and others to consider how best to meet the needs of children and young people in formal kinship care. Of course, it won’t tell us everything. It is important to note that this project will not tell us about the individual experiences of children and young people within formal kinship care, only about their care journeys and interactions with other services. Further research with children and young people themselves will be needed to fill that critical gap, and we hope that our work will stimulate further work in this area. Finally, this study will also be used to establish the potential value of thematic reports of this type for policy workers, researchers, and others. If it is found to be useful, similar thematic reports might be completed for those in other living arrangements, for particular demographic groups, or groups of children and young people with particular needs.

Understanding the ‘big picture’ through administrative data will help us to understand common themes across these experiences. It will also help us to support planning to make sure that services are there to meet the needs of all children and young people in formal kinship care. The project will report its findings in 2022, and you can keep up to date on our progress on the Scottish Centre for Administrative Research (SCADR) website.

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