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Parliament considers the national kinship care strategy – what did we learn?

On Wednesday 6th March, MPs debated the national kinship care strategy in Parliament for the first time. In an oversubscribed session led by Alistair Strathern, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, politicians from across the political spectrum pressed the Government to go further and faster to support kinship families.

MPs and kinship carers gather for a photo after the debate on the kinship care strategy

We were in Parliament for the kinship care strategy debate, alongside campaigners including Clare Walsh from our kinship care panel. Here are our highlights…

 

Alistair opened the debate with a tribute to Carol and Amanda – kinship carers in his constituency – for their love and commitment to the children they are raising and their tenacious campaigning. He also thanked the hundreds of kinship carers who had shared their views with him ahead of the debate.

He focused on three key areas – the postcode lottery in support between different local authorities, the need for kinship carers to be able to access paid employment leave, and the limitations of the Government’s financial allowances pilot.

Alistair highlighted Family Rights Group’s new research which has, shockingly, found that over a third of local authorities do not even have a local family and friends care policy in place—something that legislation already requires. He also asked the Minister to consider our proposal for tougher regulation on local authorities including introducing a local offer for kinship care.


North East Labour MP, Liz Twist, said her region has the highest proportion of children in kinship care. Many have experienced tragedy and trauma and she asked the Government to do more to provide spaces for young people in kinship care to socialise with peers.

 

Former Conservative Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton MP, raised the problems kinship carers often face in not having their status recognised, and the need for clarity in the law. This picks up from Family Rights Group’s Time to Define proposal for a legal definition of kinship care, which we are working with Government to develop. They have stopped short of committing to putting this in primary legislation which is a crucial step.

 

Ben Everitt, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes North, also paid tribute to campaigning carers in his patch. He raised the need for better educational support and asked Government to look at extending eligibility for pupil premium plus to children in kinship care to make sure extra help in school reaches those children who need it.

 

Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham, has been campaigning for kinship carers for 15 years ago after a tragic bereavement case in his constituency. He urged support for kinship care to be seen as a long term investment, and called for kinship carers to be integrated into the benefits system and for more local support services including respite care.

 

Robin Walker, Conservative MP for Worcester and Chair of the Education Select Committee, paid tribute to Enza Smith of Kinship Carers UK in his constituency, and local campaigner Julie Rose. He raised the need for bereavement support and counselling, similar to that offered to foster families, to help with loss and separation. Robin also said the Government should be going beyond pilots and looking to fund and support kinship care more systematically across the country. His Select Committee is currently taking evidence on kinship care as part of their children’s social care inquiry.

 

Kinship carer MP, Andrew Gwynne, also Chair of the APPG on Kinship Care which Family Rights Group is proud to service, gave an update on how his grandson Lyle is getting on – now five years old! He spoke about the legal challenges he and his wife Allison have faced in navigating the complexity of the system and securing the right legal status for them and Lyle. He also spoke about the challenges accessing support like therapeutic help from the Adoption & Special Guardianship Support Fund.

 

Andrew Selous, Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire, cited Family Rights Group data analysis comparing England to New Zealand and the experience there of using family group conferences systematically to avert children from care and remain in their family. He also spoke about advice and information gaps which have affected kinship carers in his constituency.

 

Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham and APPG Vice Chair, said the kinship care strategy was a missed opportunity which fell far short of the ambition that the Minister has himself set out. She pressed the Minister on the scope of the financial allowances pilot including the need to remove the perverse criteria that restricts the allowance to carers of children who have previously been in the care system. She also urged him to go back to the Treasury and the Department for Business and Trade to push harder on introducing paid kinship employment leave.

 

Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, shared the experience of grandparent carer Elaine Duffy in his constituency who had to give up work. He repeated the call for a national financial allowance and employment leave, as well as recognising the value of support groups.

 

Fleur Anderson, Labour MP for Putney, paid tribute to kinship carers in her constituency and campaigning charities Family Rights Group, Kinship and Barnardo’s. She said “Kinship carers have the responsibility of parents without the rights, and the responsibility of foster carers without the training, support or pay.” She pressed for action on financial support, legal costs, employment leave and a legal definition.

 

Ian Byrne, Labour MP for West Derby, spoke about the fantastic work of Kinship Carers Liverpool led by Pauline Thornley, and their work with Liverpool City Council to develop the first local Kinship Charter.

 

Jim Shannon, DUP MP for Strangford, highlighted figures from Northern Ireland where more than half of those in foster care are in kinship foster care. He called for kinship care to be recognised and supported appropriately across the UK.

 

Labour’s response

Responding to the debate on behalf of the Opposition was Shadow Children’s Minister Helen Hayes MP. She paid tribute to kinship carers across the country, saying ‘it is never a choice; it is an instinct for a child they love’. She also recognised the difficult circumstances that have very often led to the situation coming about and the trauma that entails for the carer as well as the child.

Helen said the kinship care strategy is a step in the right direction but falls short of what families hoped for. She pressed the Minister on the scope of the financial allowance pilot and how most kinship families will not see the benefits for several more years. She pressed the Minister on legislating for a legal definition of kinship care and to explain how he would ensure local authorities are implementing statutory guidance. Our research has showed that too many are not.

Helen thanked Family Rights Group, Kinship, the Kinship Care Alliance, and the APPG on Kinship Care for their work. In closing, she said Labour “will work with kinship carers and those who support them to get them the support and recognition they need”.

 

What did we learn from the Minister?

David Johnston MP, the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, met kinship carers before the debate started. In his response at the end of the debate, he paid tribute kinship carers across the country, including those on the Government’s Kinship Carers Reference Group and those watching from the public gallery. He said he had “huge admiration for the role they play, often unseen”.

On financial allowances… the local authorities participating have not yet been announced. He explained that they are starting with the particular subset of children because they are one of the easiest groups to define, they often have the highest need and they are the quickest for local authorities to make the payments to. He said “we want to get the programme going as quickly as possible, but subject to its success we want to broaden it to the full range of people in kinship care and to the other local authorities”.

On educational support… he confirmed Virtual School Head support would be available to all children in kinship care regardless of their legal status. The local authority grant letters are being published imminently, delivery will start in September and Government will do all they can to make sure everybody knows that they exist. Munira Wilson pressed him further on expanding pupil premium plus and priority admissions for children in kinship care, and he promised to write to her.

On employment support… he confirmed the Government has published guidance for employers to better support kinship carers in work. The Department for Education will provide kinship leave to its staff who are kinship carers and they expect other Government Departments to do similarly in the coming weeks and months.

On training and support… a £1.6 million extension to peer support funding, will be delivered from July. It will mean that all kinship carers, regardless of their care order, will be able to network and learn from each other until the end of March 2026. A new package of training and support that all kinship carers across England can access will be delivered by the charity Kinship. It is on track to be delivered from spring 2024.

Legal definition… he said they are proud to have published the first Government definition of a kinship carer. This year, it will be implemented in statutory guidance to improve understanding and awareness from practitioners about what kinship care is. The Law Commission will also review and simplify the framework for kinship care status.

Postcode lottery… Government is publishing an updated version of the family and friends guidance this spring, and will be monitoring compliance. The Minister discussed with the APPG on Kinship Care recently and said local authority compliance is very much in his sights.

The Minister closed by saying he is proud of the progress they are making to support kinship carers through the kinship care strategy, but said he knows there is more to do. “I am determined that we keep the profile of kinship carers as high as possible and that people understand the vital role they play for the children in their care and the country as a whole.”

 

What next?

The debate was an excellent opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s kinship care strategy in detail, and to challenge the Minister to be more ambitious in the Government’s support for kinship families. This is not only crucial for making sure children have the option to live safely and thrive in their family, but also for addressing the crisis in children’s social care too.

Family Rights Group is grateful to MPs from across the House for their work in championing kinship care. Strong cross-party support helped our cause. Thank you to everyone who lobbied their MP to support the debate – it certainly paid off. We will continue our work with MPs and Peers, including through the APPG on Kinship Care and alongside kinship carers, to secure the change children and families need.

With a general election on the near horizon, clear cross party support is a cause for optimism. We nevertheless have a job to do to keep kinship care on the political agenda and on the priority list for the next government.

 

The full written record of the debate can be read here.

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