News from Westminster: what will be in the national kinship care strategy?
7 minute read
Back in February, in a significant milestone, the Government committed to producing the first national kinship care strategy. It’s an exciting moment and the culmination of decades of campaigning by kinship carers, Family Rights Group, and the wider sector. Our Public Affairs Manager, Jordan, shares emerging insights on what it will include, following a meeting with the Minister.
We are optimistic that this commitment to a kinship care strategy marks the start of a major shift in children’s social care policy, away from a focus on adoption as the ‘gold standard’ permanency option for children who cannot remain at home. With a care system in crisis, failing to provide the stable and loving environment for children to thrive, there is growing recognition that we would be better off supporting children to safely remain in their family to begin with.
Last week, the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing, Claire Coutinho, met with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kinship Care. Family Rights Group facilitated the session in Parliament as the Group’s secretariat. MPs, Peers and kinship carers quizzed the Minister on the Government’s plans.
Here I run through the highlights.
First up, timelines. The original commitment made by the Government was for the kinship care strategy to be published by the end of 2023. With just six months to go, the Minister confirmed this is still their intention.
Priority areas. The Minister revealed that the Government’s three priority areas are education, employment leave and financial allowances. This is important news.
The MacAlister Review did not explore educational support and it’s an area where lots of children in kinship care struggle. All children in kinship care should benefit from Pupil Premium Plus, priority school admissions and virtual school heads. Support should continue until age 25.
Many carers are forced out of work into financial hardship when stepping up as kinship carers, especially for children who have experienced trauma. Paid leave would make a real difference to family wellbeing and financial security. There is the precedent of adoption leave and pay – although carers stress that any right to leave must be flexible to the nuances of kinship arrangements. Family Right’s Groups Same Love, Same Leave campaign and Kinship’s latest Forced Out research press for change on this.
Financial allowances for kinship carers are a real minefield. Whether a kinship carer receives financial support from the local authority is highly variable. And our advice service often hears examples of heart-breaking, unfair and inconsistent practices. For example, when some local authorities are assessing the means of kinship households to determine whether to pay them special guardianship allowance (and at what level), they are wrongly treating some disability related benefits as income. This includes disability living allowance (DLA) payable to meet the additional care needs of other disabled children in the household. The Government has committed to exploring a consistent approach across England for kinship care allowances. We urge them to do so as a priority.
Time to define kinship care. We were reassured to hear the Minister say that a clear, common definition of kinship care is a crucial step that the Government is committed to implementing. Family Rights Group’s Time To Define proposals have suggested a way forward on this and we continue to press for any definition to be written into primary legislation for it to have sufficient weight and application. Just as the Government has achieved with the domestic abuse definition. Have you signed up to our Time To Define campaign yet?
Cross government. The APPG asked the Minister whether the strategy has cross-government buy-in. To make a meaningful difference, it must have the support of all the areas of government which impact on the lives of kinship families. The Minister recognised that this goes beyond the Department for Education and pointed to the initial commitments made on employment rights and allowances which had the support of the Treasury and the Business Department. Work and Pensions and Health are engaged too.
Race equalities. Shanayd, a kinship carer from Brent and co-chair of the Kinship Care Alliance, raised the lack of attention in the Government’s plans to the experiences and inequalities faced by carers and children from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds. For example, research shows that Black children are more likely to be in kinship care than white children, but more likely to be in informal arrangements with fewer entitlements to support. The Minister accepted that they needed to do more on this and promised to take that away.
Saved by the bell
The division bell calling MPs to vote cut the session short, but the Minister promised to follow up in writing on the issues they did not have time to cover. These included:
- Given the growing crisis in children and adolescent mental health services and the poor availability of therapeutic support for children in kinship care, APPG members asked whether the Government would introduce a kinship-specific version of the Adoption Support Fund
Written response from the Minister: “Children living with Special Guardians and those under the a Child Arrangement Order who have previously been in state care can access therapeutic support via the Adoption Support Fund. We are looking to improve local authority engagement with the Adoption Support Fund to increase the proportion of eligible kinship carers that apply.”
- Whether new legislation, including a definition of kinship care, will feature in the King’s Speech in the Autumn
No further comment received.
- And clarification on the Government’s commitment to invest in training and support for kinship carers. Their initial announcement in February said £9 million but the tender for this contract is now valued at between £3 million and £5 million. The APPG asked for confirmation that the rest of the money would be allocated to other areas of kinship care support, and not clawed back by the Treasury
Written response from the Minister: “We have already made a commitment to invest up to £9 million during this Spending Review period, to establish a training and support offer that all kinship carers can access if they wish to. The training and support offer is currently out to tender, and we are expecting to have the final bids submitted by July. We are expecting the contract to be awarded in the Autumn and delivery to begin in Spring 2024.”
In a follow up letter, the Minister also made further reflections on cross-government working and the Department’s approach to safeguarding in relation to kinship care:
“How we are working together across government on the kinship strategy
“We have committed to work across government to explore possible additional workplace entitlements for kinship carers with a special guardianship order (SGO) or child arrangement order (CAO), as well as exploring the case for mandating a financial allowance for kinship carers with SGOs and CAOs in every local authority. Officials in my Department have been engaging colleagues in relevant Departments across government on the details of policy development and building the evidence base. We will need to gain collective agreement through a write round ahead of the Kinships Strategy’s publication. We have also been engaging with Local Government through Association of Directors of Childrens Services (ADCS) and with key leading stakeholders in the sector, like the charities Kinship and Family Rights Group. Throughout our consultation period we also engaged kinship carers directly and established a new kinship carer reference group to inform the development of the kinship strategy.
“How we are responding to the additional safeguarding needs of Kinship children
“Across government, we are tackling the problems that cause children to be in need or children who might be at risk of abuse or neglect. This includes investment to support Local Authorities to work with the most vulnerable children and their families or children who are on the edge of care. We have strengthened local safeguarding arrangements by placing a shared and equal duty on local authorities, police, and health services to work together to safeguard children and young people. We expect Local Authorities to only consider kinship placements when it is safe and the most appropriate for the child.”
We will continue our work, alongside kinship carers, parliamentarians and colleagues in the Kinship Care Alliance, to influence the developing strategy to ensure it meets the moment and delivers for children and families.
You can also find out more about our work with the APPG here.
Jordan Hall is Public Affairs Manager at Family Rights Group and provides the secretariat to the APPG on Kinship Care.