Family and Friends Care Policy

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Children Act 1989: Family and Friends Care: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities about family and friends providing care for children who cannot live with their parents.

Family Rights Group, Initial Family and Friends Care Assessment: A Good Practice Guide outlines what a viability assessment for family and friend carers should look like, what social workers should consider and how to undertake international assessments.

Looking After Someone Else's Child: Government advice on the support and financial help you can get if someone else's child is living with you full time.


This chapter was thoroughly updated and introduced to the manual in January 2022.

1. Introduction

Children may be brought up by members of their extended families, friends or other people who are connected with them for a variety of reasons and in a variety of different arrangements.

This policy sets out the local authority's approach towards promoting and supporting the needs of such children and covers the assessments which will be carried out to determine the services required and how such services will then be provided.

In drawing up this policy, we have consulted children and young people, family and friends carers and parents.Their words are given in italicised quotes within the document.

The manager with overall responsibility for this policy is the Head of Service, Children in Care and Care Leavers.

This policy will be regularly reviewed, and made freely and widely available.

2. Values and Principles

Consideration of children's welfare and best interests will always be at the centre of the work we do.

It is an underlying principle that children should be enabled to live within their families unless this is not consistent with their welfare. We will therefore work to maintain children within their own families, and facilitate services to support any such arrangements, wherever this is consistent with the child's safety and well-being. This principle applies to all children in need, including those who are looked after by the local authority. Where a child cannot live within his or her immediate family and the local authority is considering the need to look after the child, we will make strenuous efforts to identify potential carers within the child's network of family or friends who are able and willing to care for the child.

We will provide support for any such arrangements based on the assessed needs of the child, not simply on his or her legal status, and will seek to ensure that family and friends carers are provided with support to ensure that children do not become looked after by the local authority, or do not have to remain looked after longer than is needed.

We will provide support and training in ways that are appropriate and encouraging for family and friends carers.

“I was pleased when I found out I was going to be living with family as I didn’t want to be separated from my brother.”

The local authority has a general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of Children in Need* living within its area and to promote the upbringing of such children by their families. The way in which we fulfil this duty is by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's assessed needs (Section 17, Children Act 1989). This can include financial, practical or other support.

It is important to note that the local authority does not have a general duty to assess all arrangements where children are living with their wider family or friends network rather than their parents but it does have a duty where it appears that services may be necessary to safeguard or promote the welfare of a Child in Need.

*A Child in Need is defined in Section 17(10) of the Children Act 1989 as a child who is disabled or who is unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by the local authority.

To clarify the children who may come within the definition of Children in Need, the local authority has drawn up a Pan-Dorset Continuum of Need., which is available through the Safeguarding Partnership website.

Children in Need may live with members of their family or friends in a variety of different legal arrangements, some formal and some informal. Different court orders are available to formalise these arrangements.

Looked after children will always come within the definition of Children in Need, whether they are accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (with parental consent) or in care subject to a Court Order whereby the local authority shares parental responsibility for the child. The local authority has a responsibility wherever possible to make arrangements for a looked after child to live with a member of the family (Section 22 of the Children Act 1989).

For a detailed summary of the meaning and implications of different legal situations, the rights of carers and parents, and the nature of decisions which family and friends carers will be able to make in relation to the child, please see Annex A: Caring for Somebody Else's Child - Options. Section 4, Different Situations whereby Children may be Living with Family and Friend Carers, which sets out the local authority's powers and duties in relation to the various options.

In relation to financial support, the local authority may provide carers of children in need with such support on a regular or one-off basis, under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This may include discretionary funding based upon a financial means test. However, the status of the placement will determine the nature and amount of the financial support and who can authorise its payment. The legal status of the child may have a bearing on the levels of financial support which may be available to carers, however. There are different legislative provisions which apply to financial support for children living with family or friends in looked after/adoption/special guardianship/Child Arrangements Order arrangements. The following sections of this policy set out the financial support that we may provide to family and friends who are caring for children in these different contexts.

4. Different Situations whereby Children may be Living with Family and Friends Carers

4.1 Informal family and friends care arrangements

Where a child cannot be cared for within his or her immediate family, the family may make their own arrangements to care for the child within the family and friends network.

The local authority does not have a duty to assess any such informal family and friends care arrangements, unless it appears to the authority that services may be necessary to safeguard or promote the welfare of a Child in Need. In such cases, the local authority has a responsibility under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to assess the child's needs and provide services to meet any assessed needs of the child. Following assessment, a Child in Need Plan will be drawn up and a package of support will be identified. This can comprise a variety of different types of services and support, including financial support.

Parental responsibility remains with the birth parents, but the carer may do what is reasonable to safeguard or promote the child's welfare.

Details of the financial support available to foster carers are at Dorset Council – Fostering Pay and Support. For support to those holding Special Guardianship Orders, see SGO Finance Policy.

4.2 Private fostering arrangements

A privately fostered child is a child under 16 (or 18 if disabled) who is cared for by an adult who is not a parent or close relative, where the child is to be cared for in that home for 28 days or more. Close relative is defined as 'a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether of the full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership) or step-parent.' It does not include a child who is Looked After by a local authority. In a private fostering arrangement, the parent still holds parental responsibility and agrees the decision-making arrangements with the private foster carer.

The local authority has a duty to assess and monitor the welfare of all privately fostered children and the way in which they carry out these duties is set out in the Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005. However, the local authority may also become involved with a child in a private fostering arrangement where the child comes within the definition of a Child in Need. In such cases, the local authority has a responsibility to provide services to meet the assessed needs of the child under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Following assessment, a Child in Need Plan will be drawn up and a package of support will be identified. As in 4.1 above, this can comprise a variety of different types of services and support, including financial support.

4.3 Family and friends foster carers – 'Connected Persons'

Where a child is looked after by the local authority, we have a responsibility wherever possible to make arrangements for the child to live with a member of the family who is approved as a foster carer (Section 22 of the Children Act 1989). The child can be placed with the family members prior to such approval, subject to an assessment of the placement, for up to 16 weeks. This temporary approval can only be extended in exceptional circumstances. In this context the carer is referred to as a Connected Person and the process of obtaining approval for the placement is set out in the Placement with Connected Persons Procedure. Where temporary approval is given to such a placement under the procedure, the carers will receive financial support on a regular basis. This may cover placements at very short notice.

In addition the child will have a placement plan which sets out the specific arrangements surrounding the child and the carers including the expectations of the foster carers and the support they can expect to receive to enable to fulfil their responsibilities for the child.

The assessment and approval process for family and friends who apply to be foster carers for a specific Looked After child will be the same as for any other foster carer except that the timescales for the assessment are different where a child is already in the placement as indicated above. In all other respects the process is the same as for any other potential foster carers and is set out in the Assessment and Approval of Foster Carer Procedure. An information pack will be available to potential foster carers about the process and they will be given the name and contact details of the social worker from the Fostering Service allocated to carry out the assessment.

Dorset Council’s Fostering Service Statement of purpose sets out that:

Dorset Council operates a skills-based scheme which has 4 levels linked to a skills and competency framework. It also sets out the practice requirements, training and development expectations and support group attendance requirements at each level:

  • Level 1 carers are newly approved mainstream foster carers and Connected Persons
  • Level 2 Skilled carers are both mainstream and Connected Persons who have been approved for a year, have completed their Training, Support and Development Standards workbook, induction and mandatory training and have gained experience in providing quality foster placements
  • Level 3 Advanced carers are Connected Person and mainstream foster carers who are experienced at providing successful placements for children and young people with more complex needs, including challenging behaviour and disabilities, and have attended and implemented relevant training as evidenced in their Personal Development Plan.
  • Level 4 Specialist carers have evidenced the highest level of experience, skills and competencies and have a more demanding range of tasks that they must undertake, for example, parent and child placements, placements for young people with high risk-taking behaviours, placements for children with the highest level of disabilities. In return they are paid the highest level of fee.

Foster carers can progress to the next level if they are able to evidence that they have met the criteria for that level. Foster carers are paid a fee at the Skill Level they are assessed as meeting, alongside an age-related All-Inclusive Allowance.

Once approved as foster carers, they will be allocated a supervising social worker from the fostering service to provide them with support and supervision; and they will receive fostering allowances for as long as they care for the child as a foster carer.

While the child remains a looked after child, as a foster carer, they will be expected to cooperate with all the processes that are in place to ensure that the child receives appropriate care and support, for example, contributing to reviews of the child's Care Plan, cooperating with the child's social worker and promoting the child's education and health needs.

Authority for day-to-day decision making about the child should be delegated to the carer(s), unless there is a valid reason not to do so.

4.4 Child Arrangements Order

A Child Arrangements Order is a Court Order which sets out the arrangements as to when and with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact.

These orders replace the previous Contact Orders and Residence Orders.

A Child Arrangements Order may give parental responsibility to the person in whose favour it is made. Parental responsibility is shared with the parents.

Authority for day-to-day decision making about the child should be delegated to the carer(s), unless there is a valid reason not to do so.

Child Arrangements Orders may be made in private family proceedings in which the local authority is not a party nor involved in any way in the arrangements. However, a Child Arrangements Order in favour of a relative or foster carer (who was a 'Connected Person') with whom a child is placed may be an appropriate outcome as part of a permanence plan for a Child in Need or a 'Looked After' child.

The local authority may pay Child Arrangements Order Allowances to relatives or friends, unless they are a spouse or civil partner of a parent, with whom a child is living under a Child Arrangements Order. This is set out in paragraph 15 of Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989,  however this is discretionary.

4.5 Special Guardianship Order

Special Guardianship offers a further option for children needing permanent care outside their birth family. It can offer greater security without absolute severance from the birth family as in adoption.

Relatives may apply for a Special Guardianship Order after caring for the child for one year. As Special Guardians, they will have parental responsibility for the child which, while it is still shared with the parents, can be exercised with greater autonomy on day-to-day matters than where there is a Child Arrangements Order.

Special Guardianship Orders may be made in private family proceedings and the local authority may not be a party to any such arrangements. However, a Special Guardianship Order in favour of a relative or foster carer (who was a 'Connected Person') with whom a child is living may be an appropriate outcome as part of a permanence plan for a Child in Need or a 'Looked After' child.

Where the child was Looked After immediately prior to the making of the Special Guardianship Order, the local authority has a responsibility to assess the support needs of the child, parents and Special Guardians, including the need for financial support.

4.6 Adoption Order

Adoption is the process by which all parental rights and responsibilities for a child are permanently transferred to an adoptive parent by a court. As a result the child legally becomes part of the adoptive family.

An Adoption Order in favour of a relative or foster carer (who was a 'Connected Person') with whom a child is living may be an appropriate outcome as part of a permanence plan for a Child in Need or a 'Looked After' child.

Local authorities must make arrangements, as part of their adoption service, for the provision of a range of adoption support services. They then have to undertake assessments of the need for adoption support services at the request of the adopted child, adoptive parents and their families, as well as birth relatives. The support required is then set out in an Adoption Support Plan and this may include financial support.

5. Provision of Financial Support - General Principles

There are three categories of payment, which may be considered. One or more of these may be applicable, depending on the particular circumstances of the case:

  1. Subsistence crisis (one-off) payments

    These should be used to overcome a crisis, following the best assessment that can be achieved in the circumstances;

  2. Setting-up

    These are for such items as clothing, furniture, or bedding. The social worker must be satisfied that the carers' financial position justifies the payment through a financial assessment. Assistance may be given subject to conditions, including repayment in certain situations. However, in most situations, it will be inappropriate for the Department to seek to recover money provided under these circumstances;

  3. Weekly living contribution

    It is possible for the local authority to make regular payments where family members or friends care for a child whether or not the child is not Looked After. Where regular payments are to be made, relative carers should be assisted to maximise their Income/Benefit as regular payments may adversely affect an individual's claim to income support.

    In all cases where regular financial support is agreed, a written agreement will be drawn up detailing the level and duration of the financial support that is to be provided, and the mechanism for review.

The following criteria will be applied to all such payments:

  • The purpose of the payments must be to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
  • As part of the assessment, a view should be taken as to whether the carers need financial support based on their reasonable requirements in taking on the care of the child;
  • There are no other legitimate sources of finance;
  • Payments will be paid to the carer, not the parents;
  • The payment would not place any person in a fraudulent position.

6. Accommodation

The authority works with landlords to ensure that, whenever possible, family and friends carers living in social housing are given appropriate priority to move to more suitable accommodation if this will prevent the need for a child to become looked after.

7. Education

From 1 September 2021, the School Admissions Code provides that children being raised by family and friends carers under a Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangements Order, who struggle to get a school place during the year, will be supported in finding one.

8. Supporting Contact with Parents

The authority is under a duty to promote contact for all Children in Need, although this differs depending on whether or not the child is Looked After.

Where the child is not Looked After, we are required to promote contact between the child and his/her family 'where it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard and promote his or her welfare'. As part of the support arrangements, it may be identified that specific assistance is required to ensure that any such contact can be managed safely. If necessary, information will be made available to family and friends carers about local contact centres and family mediation services, and how to make use of their services.

Where a child is Looked After, we are required to endeavour to promote contact between the child and his or her family 'unless it is not practicable or consistent with the child's welfare'. The overall objective of the contact arrangements will be included in the child's Care Plan and the specific arrangements will be set out in the child's Placement Plan - see Contact with Parents/Adults and Siblings Procedure.

9. Family Group Conferences

Family Group Conferences are meetings held between professionals and family members, which aim to achieve the best outcomes for children. They promote the involvement of the wider family to achieve a resolution of difficulties for Children in Need, and may help to identify short-term and/or permanent solutions for children within the family network.

We will offer a Family Group Conference or other form of family meeting at an early stage. If a child becomes Looked After, perhaps following an emergency, without a Family Group Conference having been held, then (where appropriate) we will arrange one as soon as possible.

10. Complaints Procedure

Where a family or friends carer is not satisfied with the level of support provided to enable them to care for the child, then they have access to the local authority's complaints process. Our aim would be to resolve any such dissatisfaction without the need for a formal investigation but where an informal resolution is not possible, then a formal investigation will be arranged.

The timescales and process are set out in the Complaints and Representations Procedure.

See Dorset Council’s Complaints Procedure for Children’s Services.

Annex A: Caring for Somebody Else's Child - Options

Click here to view Annex A: Caring for Somebody Else's Child - Options.

Annex B: Summary of Consultation Findings

The Children’s Rights Service in Dorset undertook a consultation with children and young people who have lived with Family & Friends Carers (Special Guardians) for some time, so we could take their views into account when shaping this Policy. In particular this highlighted the need for us to ensure that all Family & Friends Carers are ready and enabled to take on the care of children, especially with regard to facilities within the home and finance.

“We had been on holiday with nanny. When we got back to mum’s, a social worker was waiting and asked nanny if she could keep us for a week. That’s about three years ago and I’ve never gone back to mum’s. Nanny was totally unprepared.”

We also need to be aware that the pre-existing connection between children and young people who are placed with Family & Friends Carers results in them being more concerned about the well-being of their carers than might be the case with ‘stranger’ carers.

“I wasn’t given the option of being able to live with a foster carer. I think being given the option would have been better for nan and granddad because they weren’t ready at all. If we’d gone somewhere else it would have given them time to prepare.”

“My guardian also does fostering and she has a foster agency person. I wanted to know if I could live with my Dad so I asked her. I would have found it difficult to ask my guardian myself because I wouldn’t have wanted to hurt her feelings.” .

Annex C: Local Sources of Information

Information about how to make a representation about a service is available on the Dorset Council website.

Advocacy and representation for Dorset children and young people who are in need or in care is provided by NYAS. To make a referral go to Their Helpline number is 0808 808 1001.

Action for Prisoners’ Families works to reduce the negative impact of imprisonment on prisoners’ families.
Advice Line Tel: 0808 808 2003

We Are With You offers a range of support developed for families and carers affected by substance misuse.
Tel: 020 7251 5860

Adfam works with families affected by substance misuse and supports carers of children whose parents have drug and alcohol problems.
Tel: 020 7553 7640

Coram British Association for Adoption and Fostering (CoramBAAF) provides information and advice about adoption and fostering and publishes resources.
Tel: 0300 222 5775

Children’s Legal Centre provides free, independent legal advice and fact sheets to children, parents, carers and professionals.
Child Law Advice Line Tel: 0808 802 0008

Citizens Advice Bureau help people with legal, financial and other problems by providing free, independent and confidential advice.
Find your local Bureau at

Department for Education provides help lines and on-line services on a range of issues.
Support for children and young people: detailed information (GOV.UK Website)

Family Fund Trust assists families with children who are severely ill or who are disabled by making grants available for things that make life easier for the child and their family.
Tel: 0845 130 4542

Family Rights Group provides advice to parents and other family members whose children are involved with or require Children’s Social Care Services because of welfare needs or concerns. Publishes resources, helps to develop support groups for family and friends carers, and runs a discussion board.
Advice Line Tel: 0800 801 0366

The Fostering Network supports foster carers and anyone with an interest in fostering to improve the lives of children in care. Publishes resources and runs Fosterline, a confidential advice line for foster carers including concerns about a child’s future, allegations and complaints, legislation and financial matters.
Fosterline Tel: 0800 040 7675

Kinship champions the role of grandparents and the wider family in children’s lives, especially when they take on a caring role in difficult family circumstances.
Advice Line Tel: 0300 123 7015