Greater use of kinship carers could significantly improve the lives of teenagers entering care for the first time, according to research by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS).
ADCS says kinship carers could help children stay with their parents. Image: Apex
The association’s research into provision for looked-after adolescents follows criticism from MPs on the education select committee, who said the care system is failing to effectively support older children coming into care.
The ADCS said it agreed with the criticism and has called for more use of extended family members as kinship carers to better support older children.
Andrew Webb, president of the ADCS, said kinship carers could be particularly useful at ensuring children remain with their parents.
“This would allow children to stay with their own families but would also provide respite, which would allow parents to get the help and support they need to be able to improve their own parenting skills, whilst providing the child with an appropriate placement,” he said.
He added that such a move would need to be backed by training, financial help and support for kinship carers.
The research found that grandparents are the most common form of kinship carers, in both formal arrangements with a council and informally.
But it acknowledged that many of these carers suffer extreme financial difficulties and health and disability issues.
Children in kinship care arrangements are happier and have more stable placements than those with foster carers, the research added.
Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of the Who Cares? Trust, welcomed the ADCS’s acknowledgement that the system does not work well for teenagers who enter care “at a time of family crisis”.
But she added that the potential savings councils could make through the use of kinship care should not factor in decisions about when to use it.
“Some of the proposals put forward in the ADCS paper result in significant cost savings for local authorities, particularly in the long term, if the number of children taken into care and the duration of their stay is drastically reduced,” she said.
“We want to hear continued assurances from local government leaders that any proposals for reform of the way we care for vulnerable children put the child’s best interests at the centre, with savings being used to fund better quality services for children in and on the edge of care.”
The ADCS hopes its study will lead to commissioning guidance focusing on partnerships across health, education and social care to support looked-after children and their carers.
The ADCS aims to work with Ofsted as well as local councils and health trusts to develop this.
Meanwhile, separate research released this week by children’s charity Buttle UK and the University of Bristol has highlighted the financial plight of the UK’s informal kinship carers.
This study looked at the lives of 80 children in kinship care.
Around a third were unable to afford basic items such as heating and warm clothes.