Kinship care an ‘untapped resource’ for 5,000 looked-after children, MPs find

Fiona Simpson
Wednesday, September 30, 2020

More than 5,000 children could be living with relatives or friends instead of in unrelated care placements, an inquiry by MPs has revealed.

Many kinship carers report a lack of legal and financial support, the report shows. Picture: Adobe Stock
Many kinship carers report a lack of legal and financial support, the report shows. Picture: Adobe Stock

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”.

It is often regarded as an afterthought, the report states.

“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,” MPs add.

The report, First Thought Not Afterthought, shows that local authorities are not consistently exploring potential kinship care placements as a realistic option.

When they are “it is often late in the day and rushed”, it states, adding that if at least 20 per cent 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.

It also highlights regional variation between local authorities in the proportion of children in care who are being raised by kinship foster carers.

Across the entire east of England, just eight per cent of looked-after children were being raised by kinship carers on 31 March 2019 compared with 18 per cent in Yorkshire and Humber, the report shows.

It also raises concerns over pressures on kinship carers including a lack of legal and financial support.

Three-quarters of kinship carers told MPs that they did not have enough information about legal options to make an informed decision when taking on care of their kinship child.

Some 58 per cent of these incurred legal costs and four in 10 of those received no financial help with this, the report adds.

It states: “The taskforce heard from many carers who had accrued substantial private debt in order to secure a legal order for a child.

“While, more than one in two kinship carers has to give up work or reduce their hours, yet most receive little if any financial support.”

The taskforce is calling on the government to introduce new legal duties for 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.

It is also calling for the adoption support fund to be extended so that children in kinship care have access to therapeutic support.

Other recommendations include:

  • 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.

  • 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 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 heartbreaking. 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.”

Cathy Ashley, chief executive of Family Rights Group, which supported the inquiry, added: “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.”

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