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What is relative and kinship care?

Relative or kinship care is a type of care that places a child or young person with a relative or someone they already know, for example a grandparent. Caring by relatives is a common practice across cultures, but the term kinship care can have different meanings for different cultural groups.

In Aboriginal communities, kin may be a relative of the child or young person or someone who shares a cultural or community connection.

Being cared for by relatives or kin also helps children avoid the trauma of being placed in unfamiliar environments. Unfortunately, not all children or young people have family or kin who can care for them, so foster carers from the wider community are vitally important.

If you want to become a relative or kinship carer, you still need to be assessed. The assessment process is similar to the one to become a foster carer, but not exactly the same.

Carers may be eligible for different allowances depending on the type of relative and kinship care.

Already a relative or kinship carer?

All carers are provided with support, training and advocacy and are supported by a caseworker through an accredited out-of-home-care agency or with Communities and Justice (DCJ). You can access information, support and learning resources through your agency as well as accessing carer support and resources.

Visit the Caring for kids website for searchable, easy to find information about all aspects of caring and raising children, including information on education, health, challenging behaviours, carer support and transition to independence for young people. Relative and kinship carers may also wish to participate in free training, peer support groups and represent carers on the NSW Carer Reference Groups.

Types of relative and kinship care

Court ordered relative and kinship care

Formal relative and kinship care is when a care order or parenting order is made by the Family Court of Australia or Federal Magistrates Court under the Family Law Act 1975, or by the NSW Children’s Court under the Care and Protection Act. A parenting order is issued when DCJ has intervened in the proceedings of the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court.

Relative and kinship carers may apply for Federal Government benefits such as the means tested Family Tax Benefits. With a care order or a parenting order, relative and kinship carers may be eligible to receive the Supported Care Allowance from Communities and Jusitce (DCJ) when DCJwas a party to the federal court proceedings.

NSW Care Orders

Children and young people at risk of significant harm may be removed from their birth parents and placed into the care of relatives or kin by DCJ. When this happens, DCJcan make a care application in the Children’s Court.

If the court then makes a care order, DCJ is responsible for supporting the relative or kinship carer by developing a care plan for the child or young person, and providing case management.

The Federal Government is primarily responsible for providing income support to carers. However, in NSW authorised relative and kinship carers allocated some or all aspects of parental responsibility receive the Supported Care Allowance - a non-taxable, non-means tested allowance to help them raise the children.

Informal relative and kinship care

An informal relative or kinship arrangement is an agreement with the child’s family about caring for the child, without a court order. These arrangements are often verbal. The child’s parents are still the legal guardians so they have parental responsibility. In an informal agreement, there are limits to the decisions a relative or kinship carer, such as a grandparent, can make without the parent’s consent.

Financial support for informal relative and kinship arrangements are not available from DCJ. The supported care allowance is only payable where there is a court order in place.

How to apply for relative and kinship care

If you want to become a relative or kinship carer, you still need to be assessed. The assessment process is similar to the one to become a foster carer, but not exactly the same.

Contact a caseworker or your local Community Services Centre to apply for relative and kinship care.

Rights and responsibilities

Children, young people, their parents and carers have certain basic rights and things that they can reasonably expect under the law. Each person’s rights are important. However, it’s occasionally necessary to balance one person’s rights and expectations with another’s, which can be challenging for all involved.

Children and young people’s rights

You play a vital role in promoting and protecting the rights of the child or young person in your care. With your help, they can learn what their rights are and how to stand up for them. Children and young people in care have the right to:

  • their own beliefs and way of life
  • be treated fairly and with respect
  • have contact with their family and community
  • do things they enjoy
  • take part in making important decisions affecting their life.

Caseworkers and carers must support these rights.

There is a Charter of Rights that outlines the general rights of every child or young person in care in NSW. Your child should have a copy of the charter. If they don’t, contact your foster care agency to request a copy.

Parents’ rights

While parents may not be responsible for the day-to-day care of their child, they’re still the child’s parent and retain certain legal rights. This includes the right to:

  • be kept informed of the whereabouts of their child, unless Community Services believes this information will endanger the safety and wellbeing of the child, their carer or their carer’s family
  • be informed of their child’s progress and development during the placement and be given information about the placement, including information about the carers
  • seek assistance from Community Services to access services that will enable their child to return to the care of their family, if this is appropriate.

Carers’ rights

As an authorised carer, you are one of the most important people in the child’s life. You have rights too, including to:

  • be treated fairly and with respect
  • be given information about the child or young person in order for you to decide whether you can accept the placement
  • say ‘no’ to a proposed placement
  • participate in the decision-making process
  • make certain decisions regarding the day-to-day care and control of the child or young person
  • be informed about the process for having agency decisions reviewed and making a complaint
  • be paid an allowance to address the needs of the child
  • have an annual review to identify your strengths and areas where skill development may be necessary, and be given training opportunities
  • have regular contact with your caseworker to support you and your family during a placement
  • receive information about services that can support you in your role as a carer and help with accessing these services
  • access any records relating to your role as a carer, such as your assessment report and approval as an authorised carer
  • be compensated, in some circumstances, if the child or young person causes deliberate or accidental loss or damage to property or personal injury
  • apply for sole parental responsibility after two years of continuous care with the consent of the parents/person who had responsibility for the child prior to them coming into care.

See also the information on foster carer rights and responsibilities

Code of Conduct

The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Regulation 2012 provides for the Minister to issue a Code of Conduct for Authorised Carers PDF, 146.18 KB and requires authorised carers to comply with the Code of Conduct as a condition of their authorisation. The Code of Conduct aims to foster stable and positive relationships between the child or young person, their carer and the designated agency.

Maintaining ties to culture while in kinship care

Children need and have the right to grow up in an environment where they are able to value their culture, religious background and language.

Carers play a crucial role in promoting and maintaining a child’s cultural connections. The need for carers from a broad range of backgrounds has never been more critical.

Aboriginal carers for Aboriginal kids

Aboriginal carers are especially important to help Aboriginal children in care grow up strong and proud. It is important that they help kids to maintain connections to family, land and culture to give them a strong sense of who they are, where they belong, and understand their family and community relationships.

The booklet Raising them strong is a great resource for Aboriginal relative and kinship carers looking after Aboriginal kids. It covers topics such as health, education, grief and loss, family contact and navigating 'the system'. It was developed with Aboriginal foster and kinship carers, care support workers, caseworkers, and the Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat (AbSec).

There's also more helpful information in Resources for Aboriginal parents and carers and in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people

Caring for children from migrant or refugee backgrounds

Families from different cultural backgrounds help children to maintain their language, religion and identity while they are in care.

If you apply to become a carer you will be asked about your cultural and religious background, including languages spoken - this helps to match children needing care stay with carers from a similar background. There's also information about Culturally and linguistically diverse children and young people on the Caring for Kids website.

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Last updated: 24 Sep 2019