A rather interesting study in the UK suggests that a great deal of child protection work may be done informally and by family. Kinship carers step in when parents can't manage to raise the children. The study found that about 1/77 children in the UK were living in kinship care with about 90% of them there within informal arrangements. In essence, here is a large number of children that are being protected within the larger family system. This is a child protection process typically running below the radar but quite apparently powerful in its impact.
The report found that older children, above 13 and particularly 15-17 years of age were the biggest age group versus younger children. The authors saw this as an unexpected age distribution.
Another surprising result was who the kinship carer turned out to be. The report notes in the Executive Summary.One of our most important findings is that between one fifth and half of children living with kin were in fact living with a sibling. (p.12)" Grandparents were the other major carer group.
Unlike kinship carers who did so under the auspices of a formal agency arrangement, those doing do under these informal processes did it without any additional supports. This created financial hardship for many carers. Various forms of deprivation were found to be common creating more concerning outcomes for these children.
There are significant policy implications. How do you support these arrangements that have the benefit of keeping children connected to family? Pulling them out of family is unlikely to be beneficial so supporting these arrangements may help. Yet, it is also possible that formal child protection assessments would find these caregivers worrying. From a policy perspective, however, we are better off supporting these family based solutions. Bringing this many children into care would be worrying indeed.
This is one of the many challenges of child protection policy. There are no perfect solutions - only those that are better than others. In most cases, supporting children within family systems will serve the child better.
The report can be found at http://www.buttleuk.org/data/files/Research_Documents/Spotlight_on_Kinship_Care_-_Exec_Summary.pdf