If you are looking after a child that is not your own on a regular basis you may have similar rights to take time off work as if you were a parent. The kind of leave you are entitled to take depends on what kind of care arrangement you have with the child. This may be an informal arrangement or a more formal foster arrangement. You should also check to see whether your employer has any special policies on leave for carers – this may be more generous than the law. You should also consider requesting flexible working if you think you need to change your working arrangements long term.
Informal Kinship Care
Informal kinship care is when there is an agreement between the carers and the parents, who are unable to care for the child themselves but do not want to put them into care. Usually, the local authority will not be involved. If you are an informal kinship carer, you may not be entitled to parental leave as you do not have parental responsibility for the child, and they are not ‘looked after’ by the local authority. However, you may still be able to take time off for dependants or request flexible working, see more below.
If you are an informal kinship carer for someone else’s child, you could consider applying for a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order. This would give you parental responsibility over the child, which would allow you to take parental leave.
Applying for one of these orders is a big step, and you should take legal advice if you are considering it.
Kinship Foster Care
Kinship foster care is a more formal arrangement. The local authority will be involved, and will place the child with a relative or close person. The child is then known as a ‘looked after child’. If you are a kinship foster carer, you will probably have undergone a fostering assessment and will receive a fostering allowance. As a kinship foster carer, you do not have parental responsibility for the child. You will have signed a foster carer agreement with the local authority, which should have clarified your role.
If the child has been placed with you in a foster care arrangement long-term, Children’s Services may want you to apply for one of the orders described above (a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order). Again, you should seek legal advice before deciding to apply for one of these orders. If you already have one of these orders, then you may be entitled to take parental leave to look after the child you care for, see more below.
To be eligible for parental leave, you must be an employee, have worked for your employer for at least once a year, and have parental responsibility for a child under 18. ‘Parental responsibility’ means, for example, having a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order. So your kinship carer status will determine whether or not you are entitled to take parental leave to care for the child in question.
Parental leave can be taken a week at a time, unless the child is disabled – in this case, it can be taken a day at a time. Each parent may not take more than four weeks a year per child. If you work a different number of days per week, or if you only work certain weeks of the year, you have to calculate your average working week. There is more information on how to take parental leave on our website.
To take parental leave, you must give your employer at least 21 days’ notice and tell them when the leave would start and finish.
We have a template notice letter you can use to request parental leave.
Your employer is not entitled to refuse your request for parental leave, but they can postpone it for up to six months if the business would be particularly disrupted. The employer must follow a specific procedure if this is the case.
Even if you are not entitled to parental leave to look after the child in question, you will still be able to take time off for dependants to deal with any emergencies involving them. Time off for dependants is available to all employees, regardless of how long they’ve been employed. It allows you to take time off in an emergency, for example if a dependant is ill or needs you to deal with a disruption or breakdown in care. You are only entitled to take a reasonable amount of time off to deal with the immediate problem. “Dependants” includes someone living with you as part of your family, so you will be entitled to this leave for this child regardless of your formal status as a kinship carer provided the child is regularly in your care and living with you as part of your family.
The time off taken needs to be reasonable – for example, if you have a partner, it would be taken into account that there are two of you. Usually, only one carer would be expected to take time off at once. Any disruption or inconvenience caused to your employer’s business should not be taken into account in determining how much time off is ‘reasonable’.
This time off is only available for emergencies, so will not be suitable to cover regular time off during the school holidays to care for a child. If you know about a situation beforehand (like school holidays), it usually does not count as an emergency. However, if you have notice that you will need to take time off and try to make alternative arrangements but are unable to, you may still be entitled to time off for dependants.
You must give your employer as much notice as possible that you will be taking time off (though this is not always realistic in certain circumstances). It is good practice to keep a record of all the conversations you have with your employer on taking time off for a dependant.
Your employers may also have special policies for leave to care for dependants. You should check that you are making full use of any leave you are entitled to. There is useful information on time off for dependants on our website.
If the arrangement with the child that you are looking after is long term, you may consider applying for flexible working. ‘Flexible working’ is a very broad term. It can mean part-time work, job-sharing, working from home, or working reduced hours in the school holidays.
All employees have the right to request flexible working if they have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks. Your employer must deal with your request in a reasonable manner, and can only refuse your request for good business reasons. They are expected to respond to your request within three months.
Any change made to your working arrangements under a flexible working request is permanent, so this solution is more suitable if you are looking after the child long term. Changes to your working hours may also have a financial impact. There is more information on flexible working available on our website.
If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.