To offer or not to offer: reflections on local kinship policies
6 minute read
Families stepping in as kinship carers too often face a postcode lottery in support. It’s time for all local authorities to have a local offer for kinship carers and children raised in kinship care. Caroline Lynch, our principal legal adviser, explains why.
In 2023, kinship care is firmly on the political agenda. There is cross party recognition of the vital role relatives and friends play in raising children who cannot live with their parents. Government is progressing our Time to Define proposal for a clear, inclusive definition of kinship care. And we have secured crucial legal aid reform for some kinship carers. This followed several years of lobbying and a major inquiry by the APPG on Kinship Care.
But as the year draws to a close, the first national kinship care strategy is keenly awaited. That this strategy is coming at all is a significant milestone. It follows decades of influencing by Family Rights Group working alongside kinship carers. And alongside the Kinship Care Alliance as well as parliamentarians. First through the groundbreaking Taskforce on Kinship Care and now the APPG on Kinship Care. How ambitious the strategy will be for kinship care remains to be seen. It’s been billed as a once in a generation opportunity. Will it seize that moment to make a meaningful difference to the lives of children and families?
There are record numbers of children in the care system. And calls to our advice line reveal stark pressures on families. At this time Government needs to be bold. Family Rights Group has set the Government six tests to deliver real meaningful change. From a committing to enshrining a definition of kinship care in primary legislation, to addressing the failings of the current system of financial support.
Local change, national improvement
Improving local practice and provision for kinship care is crucial. An essential first step is getting to grips with the strengths and limitations of current statutory guidance. Since 2011, this has required all local authorities in England to publish a local kinship care policy. Policies should set out the council’s approach to promoting and supporting the needs of children in kinship care. In all its forms. Policies are supposed to be evidence based. They are supposed to be ‘clearly expressed, regularly updated, made freely and widely available’. They are supposed to be ‘publicised by relevant means’.
12 years on, our analysis shows that too often these policies are not published. Policies that are published are often too generic. Not tailored to the locale and the needs of carers and children. In parallel, too many local authorities are failing to meet a further linked requirement. They do not have a senior manager actively responsible for implementing the policy. And for monitoring its responsiveness to need.
Time for change?
It’s time for this local policy requirement to be reframed. To recast it as a requirement to publish a ‘local offer for kinship carers and children raised in kinship care’. This offer should build on the minimum requirements that local authorities should already meet. These are already set out in statutory family and friend care guidance.
Local authority policies can be inward looking and bureaucratic. Whereas a local offer would look outwards. It would better capture the principle of partnership working with children and families. A principle that underpins the Children Act 1989. It would place a renewed emphasis on the importance of drawing on the experiences and expertise of kinship carers and children. For to understand and meaningfully respond to need, you must work with those you are seeking to help and support.
An outward facing local offer would be more than a mere gesture. It would reset and refocus local authority thinking about how to meet the needs of families with different types of kinship care arrangements. It would encourage them to engage with the different situations faced by carers and children. For example, the lack of entitlement to paid kinship leave when taking on the care the child. It would help local councils to better respond to the deficits in how policy and service information is shared with kinship carers (this includes those highlighted by the Local Government Ombudsman e.g. 20 008 652).
Reflection and revision
We have been advising government officials on how to improve the family and friends care statutory guidance in a way that benefits children and families on the ground. We have made the case for a local offer for kinship care. And how that could be implemented to best effect. This includes minimum standards regarding what the local offer should include. We have invited government to explicitly reflect on whether a local offer can be put on a firmer footing than in statutory guidance alone. More robustly built into the architecture of child welfare system and practice. For example, regulated for. Helping to address the current lack of understanding and compliance with present day statutory guidance. We’re ready to keep working with them to make it happen.