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Kinship care too often an afterthought for children in care, Family Rights Group analysis shows

Published: 24th April 2024

6 minute read

New government data on the number of children in kinship foster care across England and Wales suggests family and friend care options are too infrequently explored and supported in many local authorities.

National charity Family Rights Group, working with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kinship Care, has compared the local authority level data to the wider population of children in the care system and international examples.

The charity is calling for urgent action through a Children’s Bill to ensure exploring family first is hard wired into the system, backed up by the investment required to make it happen.

Key findings:

  • Only 15% of the 83,840 children in the care system in England are being raised by kinship foster carers (i.e. the child’s relatives or friends)
  • Despite rising numbers of children in the care system, the number in kinship foster care in England has remained steadily below 13,000 in the last three years
  • In Wales, 23% of 7,210 children in the care system are being raised by relatives or friends
  • There is significant variation between regions. From 19% in the North East to 10% in East of England.
  • It is a hugely varying picture between local authorities too – from 2% reported in the London Borough of Hounslow and 6% in Peterborough to 27% in Leeds and 31% in York.
  • Both England and Wales have much lower rates of kinship foster care when compared internationally. In New Zealand, Australia and the United States for instance, between a third and half of children in care are being raised by kinship carers.

Family Rights Group’s recommendations:

  • Kinship care should be clearly defined in primary legislation.
  • Maximise the chances of all children being raised in their family by offering a family group conference when there are welfare concerns.
  • Families should be able to access free, independent, specialist advice to help put themselves forward as kinship carers.
  • Every local authority should have an accessible, up to date local kinship care policy and offer for kinship families.
  • The national kinship care strategy should go further and faster to provide the practical, emotional and financial support all kinship families need.

Cathy_AshleyCathy Ashley, Chief Executive at Family Rights Group, said:

“There are record numbers of children and young people in the care system. Many are left isolated and without support when they leave care. The system is failing children, and it’s putting ever increasing financial pressures on local authorities too.

“Our analysis shows that too few children in care are being supported to remain safely in their family, when they cannot remain at home. There is huge variation between local authorities in how they prioritise and support exploring a child’s family network. For instance, many families are not offered a family group conference despite the recent Foundations research showing the power they can have. We have also found that over a third of local authorities do not have an up to date kinship care policy setting out their local approach to kinship care.

“The Independent Children’s Social Care Review called for a system shift towards family led solutions. So far, the Government’s pathfinders are limited to a handful of local authorities. All children should have the right to be raised within their family, where it is safe. Their chance to do so shouldn’t depend on which part of the country they are born.

“We’re calling on Government to bring forward a Children’s Bill to deliver change in every part of the country.”

Andrew Gwynne MPAndrew Gwynne MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kinship Care, secured the new data via a written parliamentary question.

He said:

“Myself and my wife Alison were called upon by children’s services to step in for our grandson, Lyle. Across the country, tens of thousands kinship carers like us are providing love, support and protection to the children of family and friends.

“However, for many thousands of families this option is not explored or properly supported. Opportunities to safely ensure children can remain in their family are missed.

“There is clearly some way to go before kinship care is consistently prioritised for children and families across the country, when they cannot remain at home. Our All Party Parliamentary Group is working hard to change this.”

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