Kinship Care Alliance Agenda for Action on Family and Friends Care 2015
In order to promote permanence and stability for children, the following recommendations are designed to ensure that children who cannot live with their parents have the opportunity to remain within their wider family and that these arrangements are adequately supported.
1. Exploring the wider family as a first port of call to avoid children entering care:
a) There should be a new legal duty on local authorities to ensure that potential placements with family and friends carers are always explored and assessed for suitability before a child becomes looked after unless there is an emergency. At present this duty only applies after the child is in the care system.
b) There should be a legal duty on local authorities to offer all families the opportunity to have a family group conference before a child enters the care system unless there is an emergency. This will enable the wider family themselves to be supported to take the lead in making a safe plan for the child, for example by identifying suitable relatives willing to raise the child, thus averting the need for care proceedings or the child entering the care system.
2. Ensuring that local authorities recognise and meet the needs of children in family and friends care in their area by providing practical and financial support, the Government should:
a) Regulate to require local authorities to publish a family and friends care policy and have a named designated senior council officer with responsibility for implementing the policy. Ofsted inspections of children's services departments should specifically ensure that this duty is complied with and Ofsted should conduct a thematic family and friends care review. The Local Government Association should also be encouraged to provide a family and friends care peer review and support network for local authorities;
b) Give family and friends carers who are raising a child for more than 28 days, where there is court, local authority or professional evidence that the child cannot live with their parents, the right to receive a Family and Friends Care Passport specifying:
- the support they can get from public services, including the local authority, health and education services, schools and government agencies to help them meet the child's needs; and
- how they can access that support.
This should be modelled on the Adoption Passport and would help carers to ensure continuity of support if they move areas.
The family and friends care passport should also provide an entitlement to the same rights currently available to children who were adopted from care, namely:
- i. Priority school admissions
- ii. Pupil Premium Plus
- iii. Free 2 year old childcare
c) Place a new duty on local authorities to establish and commission family and friends care support services, including bereavement counselling, life story work, help managing contact, assistance with children's emotional behavioural difficulties and with setting up local support groups for family and friends carers.
d) Place a new duty on local authority to assess for support services children in family and friends care who the court, local authority or a professional has determined cannot live with their parents;
e) Place a new power on local authorities to assess for support services any child living in family and friends care.
f) Make available a designated family and friends care funding pot that local authorities could apply to, similar to the former Quality Protects or the new Adoption Support fund;
g) Collect and publish official data about family and friends care arrangements to inform planning of local and national policies and support services for family and friends care.
h) Introduce a national financial allowance for family and friends carers who are raising children who would otherwise be in the care system.
3. Ensuring free legal advice is available to family and friends carers, the Government should adequately fund free specialist independent legal advice and information services to family and friends who are considering, or have taken on a child.
4. Supporting family and friends carers to remain in the labour market the Government should give:
a) family and friends carers a right to 6 weeks unpaid adjustment leave to deal with the immediate situation when a child initially moves in with them.
b) the right to a period of paid employment leave and protection to family and friends carers, who are permanently raising children who the court, local authority or professionals have determined cannot live with their parents, as adopters are entitled to.
5. Helping prevent children in family and friends care ending up in severe poverty, the Government should recognise the specific circumstances of family and friends carers within the benefits system, including:
• ensuring they are not adversely affected by the rules applying to 'spare room subsidy' and the benefits cap, which currently works against potential family and friends carers taking on sibling groups; and
• ensuring they are not penalised by changes to pension credit and child tax credit.