Family and Friends Care


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.

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 updated in June 2019 by adding a link to Looking after someone else's child, GOV.UK (see Relevant Guidance above).

1. Introduction

This policy sets out Lambeth's approach to supporting arrangements where children are looked after by family or friends instead of by their own parents.

'Family and friends care' covers a wide range of arrangements for the care of children. These include informal family solutions such as one-off day care or babysitting through to private fostering arrangements, family and friends foster care and the use of Child Arrangement Orders, Special Guardianship Orders or adoption by birth relatives.

Further, this policy strongly emphasises that children have the right to live with their birth family and the right to a normal life with minimal state intervention serving to enable this aim.

Wherever possible, and in the vast majority of circumstances, families themselves decide how they care for their children. It is only in exceptional circumstances where this is not possible that a carer arrangement would be considered.

2. Values and Principles

Lambeth is committed to supporting children and young people who do not live with their parents to achieve good outcomes.

This policy is underpinned by the principles of the Children Act 1989:

  • The welfare of the child is paramount;
  • Children should be safe and be protected by effective intervention if they are in danger;
  • Wherever possible, children should be brought up and cared for within their own families;
  • Parents with children in need should be helped to bring up their children themselves; this help should be provided as a service to the child and his/her family and should:
    • Be provided in partnership with the parents;
    • Meet each child's identified needs;
    • Be appropriate to the child's race, culture, religion and language;
    • Be open to effective independent representations and complaints procedures;
    • Draw upon effective partnership between the LA and other agencies, including voluntary agencies.

3. Research Evidence About Family and Friends Care

Evidence from research suggests that being cared for by family and friends that:

  • Enables children to live with people they know and trust;
  • Reduces the trauma of separation that can be experienced if children have to live with strangers;
  • Reinforces a sense of identity and self-esteem, which comes from children knowing their family history and culture;
  • Helps children to maintain contact with their parents, brothers and sisters and other family members;
  • Encourages families to consider and rely on their own family members as resources;
  • Gives children the opportunity to stay linked to their own communities and promotes a sense of family community responsibility;
  • Strengthens the ability of families to give children the support they need;
  • Is culturally relevant.

Overall, research tends to support the view that family and friends care can be a positive choice for children and families. Some studies indicate that children in family and friends placements do better across all outcomes and others that they do at least as well as children placed outside their families.

Care within the extended family is normal practice in many communities where parents are unable to care for their children. When placing black and ethnic minority children, identifying possible carers from amongst family or friends is an especially important consideration. Farmer and Moyers found that whilst significantly more black and ethnic minority children were placed with non-related carers than with family and friends carers, those placed with family and friends were significantly more likely to be in ethnically matched placements.

Parental Responsibility (PR)

Section 3 of the Children Act 1989[1] defines parental responsibility as:

'All the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property'.

Parental responsibility may rest with a child's parent or parents, or someone who has been given Parental Responsibility through an order made in court such as a Child Arrangements Order (or, previously, a Residence Order) or Special Guardianship Order.


Looked After Children

Looked after children are those who are in the care of the local authority, either under a voluntary agreement between the parent (or other holder of PR) or because the local authority has gone to court and been given a care order for the child (this gives the local authority PR for the child, and the local authority can decide where the child lives).

If the agreement is voluntary (known as 'accommodation' under section 20[2] of the Children Act 1989), parental responsibility remains solely with the parent. This means the parent can decide at any time that the child should not remain looked after. If the child is subject to a Care Order (sections 38[3] and 31[4] of the Children Act 1989) or Emergency Protection Order (section 44[5]) the local authority will share parental responsibility and can also decide the extent to which this may be exercised by others.

The length of the placement will be decided by the child's care plan, which is drawn up by the local authority in consultation with the parent, the child or young person themselves (depending on their age and understanding), and other people involved in the child's life (including other friends and relatives, and other professionals such as teachers or health visitors). The care plan is reviewed at least every six months, and there are also annual reviews of the foster carer's approval.

Before a child becomes looked after, every effort will be made to support the parent, or others with PR, to continue to care for the child or young person. A Family Group Conference (FGC) may be held to bring together all those who are involved with a child to discuss and plan for the child's future. The meeting is arranged by a co-ordinator who helps those attending to develop a plan to support the child.


4. Services and Support

General Support

Family and friends carers may be caring for a child for the first time, or it may be some time since they cared for their own children – in either case they may not be familiar with the services on offer locally.

Lambeth's Family Information Service - offers general information and advice about local services for children and their families.

There is also in- house support available via the service dedicated Advanced Practitioner. This provides targeted support to assist carers to make use of systemic approaches and practical therapeutic 'techniques' to support the placement/arrangement - for example:

  • Responding to children's behaviour that may be influenced by their experience or trauma;
  • Supporting the wider family network when negotiating difficulties in kinship/ connected persons placements;
  • Supporting adoptive parents where family situation may be at risk of breakdown.


Children who are experiencing emotional difficulties or mental health difficulties may be able to access services from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). In Lambeth these services are provided by the South London and Maudsley Mental Health Trust (SLaM). Click here for contact details for CAMHS.

Family Mediation

There are a number of organisations, in addition to the Local Authority, that can offer family mediation. A meeting of all members of the family in a neutral venue, with someone to chair the discussion, can provide an opportunity to talk through differences and remind everyone that their focus should be on what is best for the child. It can take families a long time to come to terms with the involvement of the Local Authority in their lives and all those involved will be experiencing strong emotions. Relationships will be changed forever, but that is not to say that they cannot once again be positive.

Children need to trust adults and it is essential that all those who care and work with them are as honest and open as possible. Children can come to terms with some very difficult information if it is given in a way that they can understand, is consistent and is presented truthfully and without prejudice. Carers and parents need to try and resolve their relationship difficulties in order to support children come to terms with their past and understand their present circumstances.

Support Groups

Support groups have previously been made available to both friends and family foster carers and special guardians, although take up has been limited. Consultations, in the form of questionnaires and informal discussions, have taken place with all friends and family carers within the borough and the children in their care in order to assess how to develop support groups in a way that would best engage them.

The Family Rights Group offer a support group for kinship carers in the Lambeth area.

5. Contact

Even if they cannot live with their parents, children often benefit from regularly spending good quality time with them. Where there is a pre-existing close relationship between family and friends carers and the parents this can often be arranged between the carers and the parents with little difficulty.

However, this is not always the case. Even those parents who have asked family or friends to care for their child can find it difficult once a child is placed, as it can be very hard for parents to see their children being cared for by someone else. As well as this, any difficulties (for example mental health difficulties, or substance misuse) which led to the parents being unable to care for the children may not change just because the children are no longer with them. This can mean that contact sessions can be a tense time for carers, parents and, most importantly, children.

Contact should be a safe and natural part of children's lives. In most cases we would want contact to move to an arrangement that is not supervised or otherwise supported by people outside the family within a relatively short period of time. If the need for supervision/support continues for more than a few months this may suggest that the contact should not carry on. In these cases there should be a contact review which looks at the reasons for this and a decision made about whether contact should continue.

When children are looked after, the local authority is responsible for making sure there are safe and suitable contact arrangements in place. These will be reviewed regularly as part of reviewing the child's care plan.

For children who are subject to a special guardianship orders or adoption orders, the arrangements for contact – and any support that is needed with this – will be described in the support plan that is written and agreed before the order is made by the court, and reviewed in the annual reviews of these support plans.

Support for other contact arrangements for children who are not looked after or subject to a special guardianship or adoption order will be determined by an assessment of the child's needs.

The range of services that may be available to support contact includes: arranging contact in a neutral venue such as a contact centre; help with transporting children to and from the venue; providing someone to supervise for a time; reviewing the benefits of contact for the child (particularly if any difficulties persist).

6. Family Group Conferences

Family Group Conferences (FGC) are held to make decisions need to be made about the safety and welfare of a family member. FGCs are a meeting of the extended family network and friends, together with those working professionally with them. They are essentially decision making or planning meetings which take place in order to address particular concerns. An independent Family Group Conference Coordinator liaises with the family and professionals to coordinate and facilitate the meeting.

FGCs can be used for early intervention, Child In Need, Child Protection and Children Looked After, and are also important for those cases following the Public Law Outline. They are successful in engaging families and encouraging the inclusion of children and young people to address concerns and make plans. Families are overwhelmingly positive about working with Social Care in this way and it is successful in achieving good outcomes.

What happens at the FGC?

There are three parts to the meeting:

  1. Information Sharing. The first part of the meeting involves everybody: the service user and their family and friends, the referrer and other professionals working directly with the family. Information about the concern(s) is shared also any identified resources or support options. The family are encouraged to ask questions for clarification. This part of the meeting is chaired by the coordinator, who facilitates the FGC process;
  2. Private Family Time. The second part of the meeting, and what distinguishes it from other meetings, is the private family time. All the professionals, including the FGC coordinator withdraw to another room and the family meets on their own to make their decisions and plans;
  3. Agreement of the Plan. The third part of the meeting takes place when the family has made a plan and they present this to the referrer and any other relevant professional for agreement. This part of the meeting is also facilitated by the coordinator. The referrer will be responsible for progressing and monitoring the plan.

Review arrangements

A Review or follow-up meeting can be held in around 6 - 12 weeks, to monitor the progress made with the plan, and to address any outstanding issues. Timing will depend on individual circumstances. Possible reviews will be discussed with the social worker in the first instance, before a decision about having a review is made.

FGC referrals can be made to:
Contact number: 020 7926 5450.

7. Financial Support

Information about the financial support that may be available from the local authority for different types of family and friends care is given below.

Lambeth bases all its allowances on the allowances paid to foster carers. This is the amount which the Council agrees is the sum required to bring up a child, and is regularly reviewed and revised.

This approach is used to ensure that there is no prejudice to meeting the child's needs with the type of order made, and that carers are not encouraged to choose one type of order over another for financial reasons – the order in place should be the one that is best for the child.

Unless statutorily prescribed, payments to persons other than local authority foster carers are discretionary, subject to means-testing, and regularly reviewed.

There is also a range of benefits that may be available to family and friends carers. General information about support that may be available through the benefits system is given on the government website.

To receive the kinship allowance the placement would have to be assessed and meet the standards set for regular foster carers. There is an expectation that family and friends carers work with the Local Authority in the same manner as regular foster carers.

8. Accommodation

Family and friends carers may find they do not have enough space in their homes for the children they are caring for. It may be possible for support to be provided to help carers move to a more suitable property however due to availability choice is very limited.

As set out in Lambeth's housing allocation scheme, Children's Social Care may make a referral to housing asking for a family's housing request to be considered in the top priority band (Band A), if this is assessed to be in the best interests of a child. Click here to view Lambeth's housing allocation scheme.

It may also be possible for Children's Social Care to offer some financial support towards housing costs (for example, a contribution towards a deposit), again if this is assessed as being in the child's best interests.

9. Types of Family & Friends Care

Private fostering

Private fostering is an arrangement made by a parent (or someone else who holds parental responsibility) for a child under 16 (18 if disabled) to be cared for longer than 28 days by someone who is not a close relative. As above, a close relative is a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (by full blood, half blood or by marriage or civil partnership) or a step parent.

Both the parent and the person caring for the child must tell the local authority about the arrangement as soon as it is agreed, or as soon as possible after it begins if it happens suddenly.

Privately fostering children are not looked after by the local authority, and parental responsibility remains with those who had it before the arrangement began.

The local authority assesses the arrangement to make sure it is suitable, but the carer is not 'approved' in the same way as a local authority foster carer. If the local authority assesses the arrangement to be unsuitable, it can say it cannot continue, and will ask the person with parental responsibility to make other arrangements. If the holder of parental responsibility cannot or will not do this, the local authority may consider whether the child should be subject to a child protection plan, or should become looked after.

A social worker will visit the child to provide advice and support at least every six weeks in the first year, and then at least every 12 weeks. Depending on the child's needs, the local authority may decide that the child should be assessed as a child in need and provided with services and support as set out in a child in need plan drawn up under section 17[6] of the Children Act 1989.

The private fostering arrangement will last as long as agreed between the parent and the carer.

The parent (or other holder of parental responsibility) is responsible for the financial support of the child. The carer can claim child benefit and other benefits if these are not being paid to the parent. The local authority has discretion to make one-off or regular payments under section 17 of the Children Act – whether a payment will be made and what this should be will be decided as part of a child in need assessment.

(See also Private Fostering Procedure).

Informal family care (Private family arrangement)

Many families make informal care arrangements for children to live with close relatives, on a temporary or permanent basis, without the involvement of the local authority (a close relative is a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt - by full blood, half blood or by marriage or civil partnership - or a step parent). In these cases parental responsibility remains with the parent (or other holder of parental responsibility) but the person who cares for the child may do what is reasonable to safeguard or promote the child's welfare.

The Local Authority may not have any involvement at all as long as the child is safe and well cared for. However, the carer can request that the local authority should assess the child's needs to see if any support should be provided under section 17[7] of the Children Act 1989 (known as a 'child in need' assessment).

The parent (or other holder of parental responsibility) is responsible for the financial support of the child. The carer can claim child benefit and other benefits if these are not being paid to the parent. A Guardian's Allowance may also be payable if both parents have died, or the only surviving parent cannot be found or is serving a prison sentence of two years or more. The local authority has discretion to make one-off or regular payments under section 17 of the Children Act – whether a payment will be made and what this should be will be decided as part of a child in need assessment.

Residence Order and Child Arrangement Order

Child Arrangement Orders (CAOs) replaced Residence and Contact Orders in April 2014, though the earlier orders remain valid and there is no need to re-apply for a CAO.

These orders are made by a court in private family proceedings (i.e. court cases that do not usually involve the local authority, though it may be asked to write a report if the family has been known to it). The carers apply to a court for the order. The order determines where the child will live and a report will be completed and presented to the court which contains the views of all those involved, including the child. The local authority or the parent of the child does not have to be in agreement with the application for it to be made.

The order can be granted to more than one person whether they live together or not. If a child arrangement order states that the child will live with a person, that person will have parental responsibility for that child until the order ceases.

The order lasts until a child reaches 18. The person caring for the child can claim child benefit and child tax credit if this is not being paid to the parent. The local authority has discretion to pay an allowance, but usually this will only be paid if the child was previously fostered by the carers or, exceptionally, if making the order prevents the child becoming looked after. Allowances are means-tested and reviewed annually.

There is no entitlement to support services, but the carer can request a child in need assessment to be carried out under s17 of the Children Act 1989.

Special Guardianship Order (SGO)

A Special Guardianship Order is made following an application by the carer to a court. The carer can make an application for an SGO, with or without the support of the local authority or the parent, after the child has lived with them for a year. A report is completed by the local authority and presented to the court.

Although parental responsibility continues to be shared by the carer and the child's parents, the carer is able to override a parent and make a final decision in almost all matters. The order lasts until the child is 18 unless it is varied or discharged prior to that age. A parent must obtain leave of the court to apply for a SGO to be revoked.

The Local Authority has discretion to provide services or support to the child or the family. As part of the report submitted to court the Local Authority outlines the support plan for the child and the carers, both now and in the future. If the child was a looked after before the SGO was made they may be entitled to leaving care services and support.

If the child was looked after prior to order there is entitlement to an assessment for financial support. This may be paid either as a one off payment or regular payments, and any payment will be means tested and reviewed annually. For former foster carers payment can include an element of remuneration. The carer can apply for Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit.

See Applications for Special Guardianship Orders Procedure.

Family and friends, or 'connected persons', foster care

When a child becomes looked after, often the best plan is for them to live with a family member or someone else the child knows well (perhaps a teacher or a youth worker) – this person is described as a 'connected person'. However, a looked after child can only be placed with a connected person if that person has been formally approved as a foster carer. This applies whether the child is accommodated voluntarily with the agreement of the parents or subject to a care order.

As a first step, following an initial assessment a connected persons' carer can be temporarily approved as a foster carer. This temporary approval is valid for 16 weeks. If it is felt that the placement will be needed for longer than 16 weeks, then during this period a full assessment is carried out. If this assessment cannot be concluded before the temporary approval expires, an extension of up to 8 weeks can be given. At any time during the 16 weeks (24 weeks if an extension is granted), the local authority can make a decision not to progress with the assessment and remove the child from the placement. (See Placements with Connected Persons Procedure).

Once approved, connected persons foster carers will have a supervising social worker whose job it is to support them and will be invited to training for foster carers.

Connected persons carers are paid the same fostering allowance (money given to foster carers to meet the costs of caring for the child) as any other foster carer. Whether they are also paid a fostering fee (a 'reward' paid to foster carers in recognition of their skills and experience) depends on whether they meet the criteria for these payments[8]. In common with other foster carers, connected persons carers cannot claim child benefit or other benefits for the child (other than Disability Living Allowance, which can be claimed on behalf of the child and must be used to meet the child's needs).

Unrelated foster care

These are foster carers who are not related to or connected to the child. They are assessed and approved as foster carers by the local authority.

As for connected persons carers, unrelated foster carers are paid an allowance to meet the costs of caring for the child and may be paid a fee (as above, they cannot claim benefits other than Disability Living Allowance for the child). They have a supervising social worker who supports them, and access to training and support groups.


If the local authority decides that the child should be placed for adoption, this can only happen with the consent of the birth parent or under a placement order made by a court. An approved foster carer can apply for an adoption order after a year of caring for the child. Other informal carers can apply for an adoption order if the child has lived with them for a period of 3 years.

When a child is adopted parental responsibility transfers to the adopters and the legal relationship with the birth parents is ended.

An adoption agency, (often a local authority, but not necessarily the local authority responsible for the child being adopted), assesses and approves prospective adopters.

When child is placed for adoption, the placement is supervised and there are statutory reviews. Once the adoption order is made, none.

As part of the adoption process there will be an assessment to identify what support services are required to meet the needs of the child. Subject to assessment, financial support may be offered in the form of one off payments or a regular adoption allowance. Once a child is adopted, adopters can claim child benefit and child tax credit.

[8] These criteria are set out in Lambeth's Fostering Handbook.

10. Complaints

All friends and family carers in contact with the local authority should be provided with a copy of the complaints leaflet, which outlines the various stages of the complaints process.

11. Feedback

We welcome your comments on this policy – please send these to:
Mark Stancer
Director: Children's Social Care
London Borough of Lambeth
7th Floor, International House
6 Canterbury Crescent,
SW9 7QE.

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

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

Annex B: Useful Organisations and Information for Family and Friends Carers [10]

Action for Prisoners' Families

Works to reduce the negative impact of imprisonment on prisoners' families. Produces publications and resources, and provides advice, information and training as well as networking opportunities.

Unit 21
Carlson Court
116 Putney Bridge Road
SW15 2NQ

Tel: 020 8812 3600
Advice line: 0808 808 2003


Offers a range of support developed for families and carers affected by substance misuse.

67-69 Cowcross Street

Tel. 020 7251 5860


Works with families affected by drugs and alcohol, and supports carers of children whose parents have drug and alcohol problems.

25 Corsham Street
N1 6DR

Tel: 020 7553 7640

Advisory Centre for Education (ACE)

Offers free independent advice and information for parents and carers on a range of state education and schooling issues, including admissions, exclusion, attendance, special educational needs and bullying.

1c Aberdeen Studios
22 Highbury Grove
N5 2DQ

General advice line: 0808 800 5793
Exclusion advice line: 0808 800 0327
Exclusion information line: 020 7704 9822 (24hr answer phone)

Children's Legal Centre

Provides free independent legal advice and factsheets to children, parents, carers and professionals.

University of Essex
Wivenhoe Park

Tel: 01206 877 910
Child Law Advice Line: 0808 802 0008
Community Legal Advice - Education: 0845 345 4345

Citizens Advice Bureau

Helps people resolve their legal, money and other problems by providing free, independent and confidential advice through local bureaux and website.


Provides information and advice about adoption and fostering and publishes resources.

41 Brunswick Square

Tel: 020 7520 0300

Coram Voice

Advocacy organisation for children living away from home or in need.

Young person's advice line: 0808 800 5792

Department for Education

Lists details of telephone help lines and online services to provide information, advice and support on a range of issues that parents and families may face in bringing up children and young people.

Family Fund Trust

Helps families with severely disabled or seriously ill children to have choices and the opportunity to enjoy ordinary life. Gives grants for things that make life easier and more enjoyable for the disabled child and their family.

4 Alpha Court
Monks Cross Drive
YO32 9WN

Tel: 0845 130 4542

Family Rights Group (FGR)

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.

Second Floor
The Print House
18 Ashwin Street
E8 3DL

Tel: 020 7923 2628
Advice line: 0808 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.

87 Blackfriars Road

Tel: 020 7620 6400
Fosterline: 0800 040 7675

Grandparents Plus

Champions the role of grandparents and the wider family in children's lives, especially when they take on the caring role in difficult family circumstances.

1 Addington Square

Helpline: 0300 123 7015

Family Mediation Council (FMC)

If you're splitting-up or getting a divorce, family mediation can help you sort out arrangements with your ex or other family members.

Family mediation helps all sorts of people: married and unmarried, parents, grandparents, step-parents and young people can all take part.

National Family Mediation (NFM)

Provides mediation services to support couples who are separated, and their children and others affected by this.

Civic Centre,
Paris St,

Tel: 0300 4000 636

Partners of Prisoners and Families Support Group

Operates helpline and provides a variety of services to support anyone who has a link with someone in prison, prisoners and other agencies.

Valentine House
1079 Rochdale Road
M9 8AJ

Tel: 0161 702 1000
Offenders' Families Helpline Tel: 0808 808 2003

Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT)

Provides practical and emotional support to prisoners and to their children and families. The Kinship Care Support Service provides support and advice to family members and friends who care for children whose parents are in HMP Holloway.

Park Place
12 Lawn Lane
Telephone: 020 77359535

Parentline Plus

Provides help and support in all aspects of family life, including information, an online chat facility and a 24 hour helpline.

CAN Mezzanine
49-51 East Road
N1 6AH

Tel: 020 7553 3080
24hr Advice line: 0808 800 2222


The government's national drugs helpline which offers free confidential drugs information and advice 24 hours a day. Information and advice is also available via the website.

24 hour advice line: 0800 77 66 00
Text: 82111

Young Minds

Works to improve the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people and empowering their parents and carers.

St John Street

Tel: 020 7336 8445
Parents helpline: 0808 802 5544

[10] Taken from Children Act 1989 Statutory Guidance on Family and Friends Care.