What is a kinship carer?

A kinship carer is a close relative who looks after a child because their parent or carer is not able to or has died. They are sometimes referred to as ‘family and friends carers’.

According to Kinship, around half of kinship carers are grandparents, but they can also be friends, aunt, uncles, and older siblings.

While a kinship carer cannot replace the parent who has died, it is possible to create a supportive family structure.

If you are a stepparent, you may find it helpful to view our resource on stepparenting where a biological parent has died.

How are kinship caring arrangements made?

We didn't talk much about it. It was just what I needed to do.

Kirsty, who became kinship carer for her brothers after their mother died

If someone is not expected to live, kinship caring arrangements may be made in advance but they can also be made after someone has died.

Arrangements can include:

  • Living in an informal arrangement made by the parent(s)/carer(s)
  • Children who are looked after by the local authority and are placed with kinship foster carers
  • Children who are the subject of Child Arrangements Orders or Special Guardianship Order

Whether the arrangement is made before or after the death, it can be helpful to get advice to help you with financial, legal and practical issues. You can contact Kinship’s Helpline on 0300 123 7025 or email: [email protected]

How can I support a child when I am grieving too?

I always shared my feelings with Shaneeka, I didn’t think twice about letting tears flow in front of her because she appreciated that.

Vivienne, who cares for her granddaughter Shaneeka after Shaneeka’s mother died.

Although you may have a close relationship with the child for whom you are caring, forming a new family may still be challenging, especially as you may be juggling looking after the children and helping them through their grief while also grieving yourself. As a kinship carer it’s important to recognise this, to listen and to give one another time.

Children look to the adults around them for cues on how to behave. They will decide from this whether it’s OK to talk about their bereavement and to show their emotions. Be honest and show them that it’s OK to feel sad but also to have different feelings at different times.

How can I look after myself?

I became really focused. I felt I had a job to do. I threw myself into coping and organising and felt I had to suppress my own grief for the sake of my siblings.

Kirsty, who became kinship carer for her brothers after their mother died

Managing your own grief at the same time as being a kinship carer can be exhausting. Don't expect too much of yourself – try to focus on one day at a time. What do you find helps you? Try to find a way of making some time for yourself to recharge your batteries. Some kinship carers find it difficult to find the time to do this, but finding ways to look after yourself will ultimately help you be better placed to support the child or children.

Accept any offers of help. Keep a list of jobs that need doing to help you answer when people ask ‘Is there anything I can do?’.

What can we do together to remember the parent or carer who has died?

One thing we never did was shut down any talk about her mum. We would talk to her about her mum and tell her that, no matter how she was feeling or how sad she felt, she could tell us. We allowed her to cry if she needed to; if she was upset, we’d hold her and let her cry it through.


When someone dies, our feelings for them and memories of them stay alive and active inside us. Finding ways to remember the person who has died can aid the grieving process for both you and the children for whom you are caring. 

Children can worry that they will forget the person and are helped greatly when they are supported to remember things they and others did with their parent or carer before they died. Some things that your child might find helpful are:

  • Looking with you at photographs of their parent or carer who has died
  • Sharing any happy memories you or their child might have of their parent or carer
  • Sharing family stories or memories of events involving the child and their parent or carer
  • Choosing and being able to keep an item of clothing worn by their parent or carer
  • Playing music their parent or carer loved
  • Making a scrapbook about their parent or carer
  • Making a collage of pictures of their parent or carer 
  • Putting together a memory box containing tangible reminders of their parent or carer. This is the child’s personal collection of reminders of who their parent or carer was and what they meant to them. It also gives a child a sense of having some control back in their lives as they choose what does and what doesn’t go into their memory box.

Have a look at our activities for grieving children and young people for more ideas.

How can we build new memories together?

It’s important to build new memories with the child or children, but also to recognise family traditions and perhaps build on these rather than trying to start from scratch. For example, if the children have particular traditions for special occasions or festivals, talk to the children about what they would like to do – whether they would like to keep some of them, and/or make some new traditions together. View our resource for more on managing special occasions when someone has died.

What helps a child feel secure?

When someone dies, a child’s sense of safety is rocked, and changes to their living arrangements can make children feel even more insecure. You can help a bereaved child feel more secure and build resilience by, as far as possible, trying to keep to normal routines which will help them feel safe. It can be helpful to include them in simple decisions and particularly in decisions that affect them. 

When someone has died, children often worry that something might happen to other adults in their lives, so communication is key. For example, if you’re going out, tell them when you will be back and stick to this to reassure them.

How can I deal with a child's anger?

One of my brothers told me he hated the fact he felt I was 'replacing' our mum and that someone he saw as an older sibling was now telling him what to do as a parent. I found that really hard too.

Kirsty, who became kinship carer for her brothers after their mother died

Children may direct their anger and resentment towards you, which can feel hurtful. Let them know that it’s normal to feel angry but it’s not OK to hurt themselves, you, or anyone else. Help them find safe ways to release their anger such as physical exercise. It may help a teenager to speak to someone outside the family unit about their feelings.

You may find it helpful to watch our short animated films, Volcano together, which aims to help children and young people cope with difficult feelings like sadness, anger, worry and guilt, and The Invisible Suitcase which helps bereaved children and families to understand their grief and how to manage it. 

How do I deal with difficult behaviour? 

It is important to maintain usual boundaries of behaviour and respect. It is not unusual for children to be challenging, such as by refusing to do something and saying, “You can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my mum/dad.” Try not to rise to this; instead, respond calmly, and acknowledge the situation. You might say: “I understand how difficult this is for you and that you loved your mum/dad. I am never going to replace your mum/dad, but I am here for you and I want the best for you.”

Should I let school know?

Whether the child has been able to stay at their school or they have had to move, it can be helpful to speak to the school so that teachers and other staff who interact with the child have a good understanding of the new family structure, the child’s bereavement and how they can help support them. You may find it helpful to share our resources for schools with the child’s teacher.

How can I get Kinship support? 

Kinship offers help and advice for kinship carers via their Helpline on 0300 123 7015 (available Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 2pm). They also offer peer support groups and a telephone peer support service.

Visit our page: How we can support you for more on our services.

You can also call our Helpline 0800 02 888 40, email [email protected], or use Live Chat on our website.