Thousands more children could be living with family members instead of in the care system, report by MPs finds.
New report by cross-party group of MPs and Peers finds kinship care placements are not being consistently explored or supported, leading to more children entering the care system instead of staying in family networks. At least 5,932 more children could be living with relatives or friends instead of in unrelated care.
First-ever parliamentary inquiry into kinship care reveals a postcode lottery in awareness of kinship care and support for kinship carers. Kinship carers receive little support which is detrimental to their health and wellbeing, and the Coronavirus pandemic has made those challenges worse.
Definition of Kinship Care: Family or friends raising children who cannot live with their parents and who would otherwise be at risk of entering the care system.
A new report, published by the cross Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care, finds kinship care is a crucial but neglected part of the children’s social care system, often regarded as an afterthought. There are over 180,000 children in the UK who are not living with their parents but are being raised by relatives, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings or friends. The number of children in the care system at its highest level since 1985 and the child welfare and family justice system has been described as being in crisis.
The Taskforce believes that the wider family and community is often an untapped resource which could be better supported to keep children out of the care system.
The Taskforce’s research also highlights the strain many carers are under and the urgent need for better support that is responsive to their needs and not their legal status or the procedures of their local authority. The pressures on carers have also been exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic, with many carers already at greater risk of financial deprivation, long term health challenges and social isolation.
- Local authorities are not consistently exploring potential kinship care placements as a realistic option and when they are it is often late in the day and rushed.
- There is significant variation between local authorities and regions in the proportion of children in care who are being raised by kinship foster carers, ranging from more than 20% in some local authorities to lower than 5% in others.
- If at least 20% of looked after children in every local authority across England were being raised by kinship foster carers rather than in unconnected placements, there would be at least 5,932 more children living in their family network.
- A third of all looked after children in England who were living with kinship fosters carers (as of March 2018) had previously been placed in an unrelated foster care placement and 2% had previously been placed in a residential children’s home. If earlier work has been done to identify and assess the family, these placements with strangers could have been avoided.
The pressures on kinship carers:
- Three-quarters of kinship carers feel they did not have enough information about legal options to make an informed decision when taking on care of their kinship child.
- 58% incurred legal costs and 4 in 10 of those received no financial help with this. The Taskforce heard from many carers who had accrued substantial private debt in order to secure a legal order for a child.
- More than one in two kinship carers has to give up work or reduce their hours, yet most receive little if any financial support.
- Over half of kinship children have additional educational needs or disabilities yet depending on the child’s legal status they typically have no clear route to greater educational support.
The Taskforce report, titled First Thought Not Afterthought, presents a vision for a good quality system of kinship care support. The inquiry has been supported by the charity Family Rights Group and has taken extensive evidence from kinship carers and their children, professionals working in the sector, third sector organisations, and local authorities. The group of MPs and Peers present recommendations for national and local government and public agencies to consider.
Key recommendations include:
- New legal duties on local authorities, delivered as part of a Kinship Care Bill, to ensure family and friends networks are the first point of call and that kinship care placements and the needs of children and families are properly supported.
- Expansion of legal aid and specialist legal advice, information and advocacy services so that potential kinship carers know their rights and options from the outset of their assessment.
- Extending the right to paid employment leave and protection (currently available to adopters) to kinship carers.
- A number of reforms to the welfare system so that kinship carers are not penalised for taking on additional children.
- Extending the Adoption Support Fund so that children in kinship care have access to therapeutic support.
- The extension of Pupil Premium Plus, Virtual School Heads, and the National Tutoring Programme to all children being raised in kinship care who cannot live safely at home, to ensure they can reach their full potential.
Catherine McKinnell MP, Member of Parliament for Newcastle North and Chair of the Taskforce, said:
“Thousands of grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters are doing their best by their kinship children, in extremely different circumstances. For too long their experiences have been ignored and with this inquiry we wanted to bring them into the public spotlight. “
“Kinship carers are doing the right thing by their families, and we believe the state needs to do the right thing by them, to ensure those placements are a success and that the children are supported to reach their full potential."
Next Monday marks the start of Kinship Care Week where we will be covering a full week of awareness raising, kinship stories and sharing our thanks to the incredible kinship carers in Middlesbrough. Follow us on Facebook to keep up to date.