Kinship care is when children and youth are cared for by relatives. Kinship care has long been a common practice, most often by way of grandparents caring for grandchildren. More than 13,000 children and youth in BC are being raised by relatives (who aren’t their birth parents). 

In some circles, the definition of “kin” extends to family friends or trusted adults who have strong connections to a child’s family, community and culture.

Benefits of kinship care

Kinship care often allows children and youth to enjoy a level of stability and continuity in their lives, which contribute to a sense of belonging and permanency. That’s why the adoption and permanency community increasingly prefers to find kinship families who can care for children who cannot stay with their original families before considering avenues like foster care.

Many kinship care families start off as temporary situations. But should a child not be able to reunite with their parents, then kinship families may have an easier time pursuing adoption, guardianship, or another permanency arrangement that is legally recognized. 

Even when kinship care is only temporary, caregivers can still provide a secure, loving home – and that’s invaluable to any child. Being cared for by someone whom the child or youth knows helps keep important attachments with culture and community.

Types of kinship care

Kinship care refers to any arrangement where a child or youth is cared for by relatives that are not their parents. It can also refer to an arrangement where the caregiver isn’t a relative, but already had some kind of connection with the child or parents, like a close family friend or neighbour. You might hear these described as “fictive kin.” Some types of kinship care listed below are also discussed as part of other adoption and permanency arrangements.

Informal kinship care

Kinship care has been a common practice long before we had a name for it. Parents sometimes voluntarily leave their children in the care of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or someone else they trust.

Extended Family Program

When parents are unable to care for their children for a period of time, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) may place the children or youth in the care of another relative temporarily in what’s called an Extended Family Program agreement. Parents keep their parental rights in this situation, while the new caregivers can access financial support.

As a temporary arrangement, the Extended Family Program does not create legal permanency for a child or youth. But it can keep a child out of government or foster care, which offers more continuity with family and community.

Kinship adoption

A kinship adoption is when a child is adopted by relatives (kin), which includes adults who have a strong connection to the child’s family, community, or culture. Kinship families who have cared for the child or youth can be strong candidates for kinship adoption.


A relative may choose to become a child’s guardian instead of adopting them. If you have a strong relationship with a child or youth who cannot be reunited with their parents, you may apply to the courts for guardianship over the child under the Family Law Act. 

You or someone else may be temporarily caring for this child or youth, or they may be in government care, foster care.

Court-ordered guardianship 

Sometimes the courts will transfer permanent custody of a child to another adult or family, if they decide a child will never be able to return to their parents. If the adult or family accepts, then they become guardians of the child. This is different from adoption, as the guardianship arrangement ends when the child turns 19.

There are two types of permanent transfers of custody that a court may call for, and it depends on whether a Continuing Custody Order is in place or not. When a Continuing Custody Order is in place, that means the child has been separated from their parents and placed into government care permanently. 

More on guardianship court orders here.

Get support

Kinship Care Help Line | Parent Support Services Society
Get confidential, one-on-one support from experts on social work, family law, and kinship caregiving by calling this helpline for relatives raising relatives.
Dial 604-558-4740 (Metro Vancouver) or 1-855-474-9777 (toll-free).

Kinship Care Support Groups | Parent Support Services Society

State of Kinship Care Report | Parent Support Services Society
This 2020 report examines the barriers and challenges faced by kinship caregivers in British Columbia.

Homepage | Fairness for Children Raised by Relatives Society
A non-profit that advocates for better governmental support for kinship caregivers.

All Our Relations – Equality for Relatives Raising Relatives | Facebook group
An online support group focused on supporting Indigenous adults raising relatives, those raising Indigenous relatives, and young Indigenous adults who were raised in kinship care.

Further reading

Finding families closer to home | Belonging Network

Grandmother to guardian | Belonging Network

Out-of-care/kinship options for children and youth in BC | Government of BC

Kinship care benefits | Legal Aid

Training series: Coping with the unique challenges of kinship care | Annie E. Casey Foundation