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First Thought Not Afterthought: Report by the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care

Published: 19th January 2021

8 minute read

30.09.2020

PARLIAMENTARY TASKFORCE ON KINSHIP CARE

Thousands more children could be living with family members instead of in the care system, report by MPs finds

  • New report by cross-party group of MPs and Peers finds kinship care placements are not being consistently explored or supported, leading to more children entering the care system instead of staying in family networks. At least 5,932 more children could be living with relatives or friends instead of in unrelated care.
  • First-ever parliamentary inquiry into kinship care reveals a postcode lottery in awareness of kinship care and support for kinship carers.
  • Kinship carers receive little support which is detrimental to their health and wellbeing, and the Coronavirus pandemic has made those challenges worse.

Definition of Kinship Care:

Family or friends raising children who cannot live with their parents and who would otherwise be at risk of entering the care system.

A new report, published by the cross Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care, finds kinship care is a crucial but neglected part of the children’s social care system, often regarded as an afterthought.

There are over 180,000 children in the UK who are not living with their parents but are being raised by relatives, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings or friends.

The number of children in the care system at its highest level since 1985 and the child welfare and family justice system has been described as being in crisis.

The Taskforce believes that the wider family and community is often an untapped resource which could be better supported to keep children out of the care system.

The Taskforce’s research also highlights the strain many carers are under and the urgent need for better support that is responsive to their needs and not their legal status or the procedures of their local authority.

The pressures on carers have also been exacerbated by the Coronavirus pandemic, with many carers already at greater risk of financial deprivation, long term health challenges and social isolation.

Key findings

  • Local authorities are not consistently exploring potential kinship care placements as a realistic option and when they are it is often late in the day
    and rushed.
  • There is significant variation between local authorities and regions in the proportion of children in care who are being raised by kinship foster carers, ranging from more than 20% in some local authorities to lower than 5% in others.
  • If at least 20% of looked after children in every local authority across England were being raised by kinship foster carers rather than in unconnected placements, there would be at least 5,932 more children living in their family network.
  • A third of all looked after children in England who were living with kinship fosters carers (as of March 2018) had previously been placed in an unrelated
    foster care placement and 2% had previously been placed in a residential children’s home. If earlier work has been done to identify and assess the family, these placements with strangers could have been avoided.

The pressures on kinship carers:

  • Three-quarters of kinship carers feel they did not have enough information about legal options to make an informed decision when taking on care of their kinship child.
  • 58% incurred legal costs and 4 in 10 of those received no financial help with this. The Taskforce heard from many carers who had accrued substantial
    private debt in order to secure a legal order for a child.
  • More than one in two kinship carers has to give up work or reduce their hours, yet most receive little if any financial support. Over half of kinship children have additional educational needs or disabilities yet depending on the child’s legal status they typically have no clear route to
    greater educational support.

The Taskforce report, titled First Thought Not Afterthought, presents a vision for a good quality system of kinship care support.

The inquiry has been supported by the charity Family Rights Group and has taken extensive evidence from kinship carers and their children, professionals working in the sector, third sector organisations, and local authorities.

The group of MPs and Peers present recommendations for national and local government and public agencies to consider.

Key recommendations include:

  1. New legal duties on local authorities, delivered as part of a Kinship Care Bill, to ensure family and friends networks are the first point of call and that kinship care placements and the needs of children and families are properly supported.
  2. Expansion of legal aid and specialist legal advice, information and advocacy services so that potential kinship carers know their rights and options from the outset of their assessment.
  3. Extending the right to paid employment leave and protection (currently available to adopters) to kinship carers.
  4. A number of reforms to the welfare system so that kinship carers are not penalised for taking on additional children.
  5. Extending the Adoption Support Fund so that children in kinship care have access to therapeutic support.
  6. The extension of Pupil Premium Plus, Virtual School Heads, and the National Tutoring Programme to all children being raised in kinship care who cannot live safely at home, to ensure they can reach their full potential.

Catherine McKinnell MP, Member of Parliament for Newcastle North and Chair of the Taskforce, said:

“Thousands of grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters are doing their best by their kinship children, in extremely different circumstances. For too long their experiences have been ignored and with this inquiry we wanted to bring them into
the public spotlight.

“We’ve heard from kinship carers in every part of England and Wales and many of the stories we have heard have been heart-breaking. Families being plunged into poverty, having to give up work, spending thousands on legal fees, struggling in overcrowded housing, all to give children a safe and loving home.

“Kinship carers are doing the right thing by their families, and we believe the state needs to do the right thing by them, to ensure those placements are a success and that the children are supported to reach their full potential.

“Many more children could also be safely living with family and friends instead of in a care system which is bursting at the seams, if placements were better supported.

“These families have been an afterthought for too long and our report presents a plan to change that. We hope government will take our suggestions forward.”

Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group said:

“We know family and friends are a huge untapped resource for lots of children in the care system and the Taskforce’s research reveals how inconsistent this option is being explored for many children. It means that more children are ending up in the care system, living with strangers, when they could be living within their family and friends’ network.

“The other side to this is that kinship care placements need to be better supported. Even if the carers know the child well, becoming their carer brings lots of challenges, especially if the child has suffered tragedy or trauma. The Taskforce’s work reveals a stark postcode lottery where the support carers can access is dependent on where they live, any legal order they may have, and whether or not the child has been in the care system first. The child’s and the carers needs are at the bottom of the list and the Taskforce has presented a plan to make that the top priority instead.”

Case studies from kinship carers

(Please contact Family Rights Group for additional case studies – details below)

Grandparents caring for their two grandchildren

“We are special guardians to two of our five grandchildren. They’re eight and nine years old and have been in our care since 2013 when their mum suffered from severe postnatal depression and was diagnosed with a borderline line personality disorder.

“Our lives have been completely turned upside down over the past seven years. The first two years were full of tension. We were trying to manage contact with their mum, the gruelling assessment process with children’s services to see if we were suitable to become special guardians and the court process. All of this whilst caring for two young children whose whole lives had changed.”

Notes to editors:

Further information on the cross-party Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care:

  • The Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care was established in December 2018 by Anna Turley, then MP for Redcar.
  • The aim of the Taskforce is: To raise awareness about, and support for, children in kinship care and to highlight the importance of this option for children who cannot live with their parents.
  • The Members of the Taskforce are: Catherine McKinnell MP (Chair), Ian Byrne MP, Alex Cunningham MP, Chris Elmore MP, Andrew Gwynne MP, Helen Hayes MP, Kevan Jones MP, Ben Lake MP, Kerry McCarthy MP, Andy McDonald MP, Jess Phillips MP, William Wragg MP, Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, Baroness Drake CBE.
  • The following Taskforce Members left Parliament at the 2019 General Election: Anna Turley (Redcar, Labour), Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree, Liberal Democrat), Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby, Labour) and Stephen Twigg (West Derby, Labour)
  • The following members contributed to the earlier stages of our inquiry before taking up positions in Government: Victoria Prentis MP (Banbury) and Rt Hon Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP (Berwick-upon-Tweed) Family Rights Group (Secretariat of the Taskforce)
  • Family Rights Group is a charity that undertakes research and campaigns on behalf of kinship carers. It is co-secretariat to the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care with Catherine McKinnell MP’s office. The charity runs a free specialist legal and practice advice line for parents whose children are in need, at risk or are in the care system, and wider relatives who are raising, or have taken on the care of a child who cannot remain at home. Freephone Advice line: Tel 0808 801 0366 open MondayFriday 9.30am-3:00pm.

For further information, contact:

Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group cashley@frg.org.uk 07931570149

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