Thousands more children could be living with family members instead of in the care system

This week is Kinship Care Week – a national week to raise awareness, understanding and recognition of the role of kinship carers. Family or friends raising children who cannot live with their parents and who would otherwise be at risk of entering the care system.

Catherine is proud to chair the cross-party Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care in Parliament. The Taskforce have released a new report which finds kinship care is a crucial but neglected part of the children’s social care system, often regarded as an afterthought.

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.

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 inquiry has also found that support for kinship carers is a postcode lottery, with many receiving little support which is detrimental to their health and wellbeing, and the Coronavirus pandemic has made those challenges worse.

On Wednesday 30th September, Catherine chaired the report’s launch event which you can watch again here.

The report is also available here.

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.

“We’ve heard from kinship carers in every part of England and Wales and many of the stories we have heard have been heart-breaking. Families being plunged into poverty, having to give up work, spending thousands on legal fees, struggling in overcrowded housing, all to give children a safe and loving home.

“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.

“Many more children could also be safely living with family and friends instead of in a care system which is bursting at the seams, if placements were better supported.

“These families have been an afterthought for too long and our report presents a plan to change that. We hope government will take our suggestions forward.”

 

Key report findings

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. More than one in two kinship carers has to give up work or reduce their hours, yet most receive little if any financial support.
  4. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Extending the right to paid employment leave and protection (currently available to adopters) to kinship carers.
  4. A number of reforms to the welfare system so that kinship carers are not penalised for taking on additional children.
  5. Extending the Adoption Support Fund so that children in kinship care have access to therapeutic support.
  6. 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.

 

Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group said:

“We know family and friends are a huge untapped resource for lots of children in the care system and the Taskforce’s research reveals how inconsistent this option is being explored for many children. It means that more children are ending up in the care system, living with strangers, when they could be living within their family and friends’ network.

“The other side to this is that kinship care placements need to be better supported. Even if the carers know the child well, becoming their carer brings lots of challenges, especially if the child has suffered tragedy or trauma. The Taskforce’s work reveals a stark postcode lottery where the support carers can access is dependent on where they live, any legal order they may have, and whether or not the child has been in the care system first. The child’s and the carers needs are at the bottom of the list and the Taskforce has presented a plan to make that the top priority instead.”