“They Finally See Me, They Trust Me, My Brother’s Coming Home”: Recognising the Motivations and Role of Siblings Who Become Kinship Carers

There is an increased understanding of the role of kinship care in raising children where their parents cannot. A lot of the media stories and current research talk about grandparents who step up and become the full-time carer for their grandchildren. However, kinship carers can be anyone who has a connection to a child – an aunt, a neighbour, a best friend’s family. They can also be the older brother or sister of the child needing an alternative carer.

This type of family – where a child is being brought up by their older sibling – is rarely talked about, although we know it happens across the UK (Kinship care in England and Wales – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)). My PhD research is seeking to change this by exploring the stories of these families.

My recently published paper (Societies | Free Full-Text | “They Finally See Me, They Trust Me, My Brother’s Coming Home” Recognising the Motivations and Role of Siblings Who Become Kinship Carers (mdpi.com)) highlights the motivations driving older siblings who step up into a parental role when their younger siblings need it. The paper presents three types of stories which highlight how and why some sibling kinship care arrangements come about.

Some siblings were motivated by wanting to bring their younger siblings back into their family when they have enter care, like Sally:

“I was like ‘So now that I’ve got my own flat, why can’t they just come live with me? They are my brother and sister… They’re my family”.

Others were trying to keep their younger siblings in their family where they might otherwise go into care, like Claire:

In my eyes, I did not want him to go into the care system. I just knew he wouldnt survive. He had enough issues anyway. I was like, ‘No way is he having that instability’”.

A final group of siblings were stepping in to fill a gap in parenting at home where their parent is not able to provide the care that they felt was needed, like Kelly:

“He [father] was just physically there. In regards to actually looking after the siblings and making sure they’re okay, that’s kind of always been my job….”

These families are often seeking recognition of the role that they are playing – and are too often unseen by services and society more broadly. The consequences of siblings not being recognised can be that they are denied the support that they need when they need it, or that that the support on offer is not appropriate for their circumstances. This may be particularly important where siblings are providing care but are not the only adults in the home, meaning the care work of these carers may be overlooked on the premise that the other adults are the primary carers of the children.

When older siblings are taken seriously and considered as important partners in caring for and protecting their younger siblings, the experience can be profound. This was put so eloquently by Sally when recounting how she felt when she was approved as a foster carer for her younger brother:

“It was this feeling of ‘oh my god, they finally see me, they trust me. I’m responsible, that they’re gonna give me my brother. My brother’s coming home’”.

Reading these stories and experiences, I hope will prompt practitioners and policymakers to “finally see” siblings when considering who is and should be involved in deciding how to support children to remain within their family network.

Lorna Stabler – Research Associate, CASCADE, Cardiff University