Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s report Firm Foundations criticises local authorities for flouting the law at family and friends carers’ expense
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report issued today shows that some local authorities are flouting the law in the way that they treat family and friends carers, who have a special guardianship order for a child who cannot live with their parents. As the report states, these carers are grandparents, siblings, other relatives or friends “who take on the child, out of love, in the aftermath of a crisis”.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s report conducted 322 detailed investigations into complaints about special guardianship orders and wider fostering and child protection issues. They upheld seven out of every 10 complaints, significantly higher than their average rate in all their work of 57%.
They found that some local authorities had incorrectly calculated, changed and cut financial allowances for special guardians. In some cases, families were not given the right information or advice to make an informed decision about becoming a special guardian, with lasting consequences. In other cases, support that was promised was not forthcoming.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:
The Firm Foundations report reflects the experience of family members ringing our advice service. It also resonates with the survey, conducted by Family Rights Group and Grandparents Plus, which found that 93% of carers felt that they hadn’t been given enough information about finance when they took on care of the children and 41% of those receiving some form of regular local allowance said it had been reduced or been cut entirely as a result of a change in their local authority’s policy.
Special guardians are relatives and friends who have done the right thing by children who would otherwise be in the care system. Unlike adopters, these special guardians don’t get paid leave so many are forced to leave their jobs when the children come to live with them. They are then forced on to benefits. Too often local authorities then ride roughshod over their and the children’s needs, taking advantage of these carers’ good nature and lack of knowledge of the system.
“Action is needed now by central and local government. Councils are under severe financial pressures but that is not a justification for their failing to comply with the law.
Alongside all councils needing to comply with the Ombudsman’s report, central government also needs to step up to the mark by:
- Enabling special guardians to have a right to paid leave
- Exempting child tax credit, received by special guardians for the children they are raising, from the benefit cap.”
Statement from Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group :
Child tax credit - 2 child limit – Government exempts kinship carers and adopters
“This is extremely welcome news for both kinship carers and adopters. Kinship Carers and adopters should never have been affected by the 2 child limit on child tax credit and it’s a great shame that the Government wasted monies fighting this in the courts. However, I’m very pleased that they have now seen sense.
Since April 2017, we are aware of a number of kinship carers including sibling carers, who have been prevented from claiming child tax credit for their own baby because they were already raising their younger brothers and sisters and therefore had more than 2 children in the households. These kinship carers have already given up so much to do right by traumatised vulnerable children in their family. They’ve stepped into, preventing the child entering care. They should be praised and supported not penalised by Government.
This is a victory for Family Rights Group and the Kinship Care Alliance and all those who stood with us. We’re particularly grateful to Child Poverty Action Group for taking the legal case that has helped to cause this change of heart by Government.”
We are extremely grateful to Child Poverty Action Group, to Melanie Onn MP who championed this in Parliament and to kinship carers and others who campaigned on this issue”.
A new survey of over 500 kinship carers – grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members and friends who’ve taken on care of children who aren’t able to live with their parents – has revealed that as many as 94% say caring has caused financial hardship, despite many stepping in to keep children out of the local authority care system. Read more about the survey findings in the Guardian's report - Kinship carers 'left poor and homeless by welfare changes'.
The survey, conducted by Family Rights Group and Grandparents Plus on behalf of the Kinship Care Alliance, found that 93% of carers felt that they hadn’t been given enough information about finance when they took on care of the children.
The survey also showed that:
- 41% of those receiving some form of regular local allowance said it had been reduced or been cut entirely as a result of a change in the local authority’s policy.
- Around half of kinship carers (46%) had given up work to take on the child(ren). Only 12% of the carers surveyed were in full time work.
- The support available to kinship carers varies wildly, even between children in the same family. A number of carers reported receiving financial support for one child but not others, often as a result of differing legal arrangements.
- Kinship carers can be penalised by changes to the benefits system, including the benefit cap and bedroom tax, and are regularly caught between systems. One carer said: “I was told by a social worker I had to move into a four bedroomed house, as the baby could not share with my children, but housing benefit states they can share, so it won’t pay for the fourth bedroom.”
- A few younger kinship carers have already been affected by the limiting of child tax credit to two children since April 2017, because although Government agreed to exempt carers taking in kinship children from the restriction, this does not currently apply to those who are already raising two kinship children and then have their own baby.
- As a result of financial hardship, many kinship carers have faced losing their homes, been forced to rely on foodbanks and got into debt. One carer said: “I have used all my savings to live off. Now they have gone I am struggling to even feed us. I got told to go to the food bank. I felt degraded.”
It’s estimated that there are around 200,000 children growing up in kinship care in the UK. Only foster carers are entitled to an allowance to cover the cost of raising a child, and research has shown a clear link between kinship care and deprivation.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:
“Relatives have often taken on the care of children to keep them safe, to give them security and because they know and love them. In some cases, they have been asked by the local authority to raise children, who would otherwise end up in the care system. Often the relatives have to make a decision at short notice.
“These kinship carers are doing all that could be asked of them by society and more. But instead of getting the support they and the children need, many kinship carers are left in poverty, isolated and having to battle to just make ends meet, whilst often also caring for traumatised children. The benefits system is getting harsher, with the benefit cap and sanctions causing some kinship care households to even lose their homes, just because they did right by the child.”
Dr Lucy Peake, Chief Executive of Grandparents Plus, said:
“The numbers are only part of the story this survey is telling us. Hundreds of carers have sent us their experiences of trying to provide stable homes for often traumatised children with no financial support, of complex and opaque systems that give them mixed and conflicting messages. What’s even more disheartening is how little things have changed. Our research has shown that kinship carers have consistently struggled to get the support they need, despite giving up everything to put the children who need them first. It’s unacceptable that these families are still given so little policy attention and rendered so invisible. Grandparents Plus is calling on the Government to take urgent action to prevent more families from being plunged into poverty, by ensuring all kinship carers have a financial allowance related to their financial circumstances and the needs of the child.”
The Kinship Care Alliance is calling for the Government to take the following measures to support kinship carers who are permanently raising a child who cannot live with their parents:
- Give kinship carers the right to a period of paid employment leave when the children settle in, similar to Adoption Leave. This would prevent many kinship carers from losing their jobs and being forced to rely on benefits.
- To not apply the benefit cap and bedroom tax to kinship carer households.
- Exempt all family and friends care households from the limiting of child tax credit to two children.
Family Rights Group has today launched the Your Family, Your Voice Alliance Knowledge Inquiry report on section 20 voluntary arrangement for children coming into the care system
Research undertaken as part of the Inquiry including a freedom of information request submitted to all English local authorities. It found that 163 children in care under a voluntary arrangement have been placed with foster carers who are already approved as suitable adopters since fostering for adoption legislation came into force three years ago. 111 of these are new born babies aged under 6 weeks old. In many cases the parents will not have had access to free legal advice and there will not have been any court scrutiny of the decision.
Please email your MP to ask for their support to secure the continued funding of Family Rights Group's unique, free specialist advice service for families who are involved with children's services about their children's welfare.
Thank you. Your support is much appreciated.
Family Rights Group's new report entitled Doing the right thing: a Report on the experiences of kinship carers, 13 October 2015 has been covered in both the Independent and the Guardian.
The story is also covered in Community Care here.
“The Children Act remains a landmark piece of British child care law which has truly stood the test of time. Various politicians will claim credit for its success but the key figure responsible was a shy and unassuming civil servant called Rupert Hughes”.
Press release on new report from Family Rights Group on 'Could do better...Must do better: A study of family and friends care local authority policies' by Mercer A, Lindley B and Hopkins A, 27 March 2015
Articles on polling data commissioned by Family Rights Group, thanks to funding from Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, on public backing for children in family and friends care getting the same support as those who are in care or are adopted.
The report is based on:
- Calls by kinship carers to Family Rights Group Advice Service in the financial year 2014/15.
- An online survey of 579 kinship carers.
Key findings are:
- Almost half (49%) of kinship carers have had to give up work permanently to care for the kin child, and a further 18% had to give up work temporarily.
- 22% of kinship carers' households had 3 or more children aged 18 or under, suggesting that the Government's proposed limit on child tax credits will have a detrimental effect on kinship carers.
- 80% of kinship carers felt that when they took on the child, they did not know enough about the legal options and the consequences for getting support to make an informed decision.
A new report based upon research by Family Rights Group which reveals that 26 (17%) of English local authorities, including 30% of London local authorities are failing to comply with the most basic requirement of statutory guidance issued in 2011, to have a published policy setting out their approach towards promoting and supporting the needs of children living with family and friend carers.
The study analyses 53 family and friends care policies, to identify how they are complying with statutory family and friends care guidance and to highlight good practice. It includes a check list to assist local authorities to develop and improve their policies.
A new report by Family Rights Group (Ashley & Roth 2015) investigates the experience of siblings in the care system. It found that half (49.5%) of all sibling groups in local authority care are split up and that 37% of children in care who have at least one other sibling in care are living with none of their siblings. The research also found although relatively few looked after children live with kinship foster carers, it appears to particularly be conducive to supporting siblings to be able to live together. The report sets out a series of recommendations to enable more siblings in care to live together, when it is their welfare interests.
The article challenges the assumption that the primary role of the child welfare system is to change families.
Agenda for Action 2015 – please support our campaign
The Kinship Care Alliance has published an Agenda for Action setting out recommendations that we think need to be implemented following the general election 2015. We want to see the following changes:
- That children who cannot live with their parents are able to grow up within their wider family wherever possible, taking account of children's wishes and feelings.
- That children living in family and friends care are not overlooked and have their needs met.
- That family and friends carers have access to free legal advice and information services to protect the children.
- That family and friends carers are enabled to stay in work and not forced to give up their jobs when taking on the care of the children.
- That family and friends carers are not plunged into poverty nor penalised by the benefits system.
Today, Tristram Hunt MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Education has announced measures that he plans to introduce to improve support for children in kinship care, should Labour be elected into Government. Please see more information about the announcement.
Commenting on the announcement, Cathy Ashley, Family Rights Group's Chief Executive said "Kinship carers go to enormous lengths, often at considerable personal cost, to care for children who cannot live with their parents, and have often previously suffered considerable trauma or tragedy. They do what is right by these children, so should society. It is essential that they be given greater support, including children in kinship care being given the highest priority in the school admissions system. This is an important step forward." - Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group.
Later today Family Rights Group will be hosting a meeting in which children raised by their kinship carers and the carers themselves will discuss their experiences with Tristram Hunt MP.
You can read more about the Agenda for Action that Family Rights Group, as members of the Kinship Care Alliance, is promoting so that more children who cannot live with their parents, are able to live safely and thrive within their wider family.
When children are unable to live safely with their parents, then their family and friends should be the first port of call to provide them with love, care and security. These family and friends carers should be recognised and valued. Both the carers and the children should have their voices heard and needs met so that the children can flourish.
We would love to hear the views of children being raised by grandparents or older siblings or in other family and friends care arrangements (also known as kinship care). This is the first national survey of its kind. The results of the survey will be published on the website and will influence Family Rights Group's work including what we try and get funding to do and that of the Kinship Care Alliance.
We have not put a closing date – instead our aim is that at least 100 children and young people complete the survey.