No child should have to live outside of their family if there is a safe and loving home available within their family and friends’ network, a parliamentary inquiry into kinship care states.
There are more than 180,000 children across the UK living with kinship carers - relatives or friends who raise children who cannot safely remain with their parents. This is significantly more than are in the care system and many more than are adopted, making kinship care an important element of the children’s social care system.
“Yet kinship care is widely unrecognised, underappreciated and often poorly supported – it is, in effect, the unacknowledged third pillar of the children’s social care system. Our vision is for a children’s social care and family justice system that explicitly acknowledges and supports this vital third pillar, and in which family is always explored as a first point of call,” said the report of the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care.
“Our vision, presented in this report, is for a children’s social care and family justice system where family is always explored as a first point of call,” it added.
The cross-party Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care was established in 2018 to raise awareness of and support for children in kinship care and their families, and to highlight the importance of this option for children who cannot live with their parents. MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum, including those unaffiliated to any party, came together to lead an inquiry on kinship care in England and Wales, with the support of Family Rights Group.
Children enter kinship for a variety of reasons such as their parents not being able to care for them due to parental substance misuse, mental or physical incapacity, domestic violence, imprisonment, teenage parenthood, parental separation or death. Child protection concerns are common. As a result, all kinship placements involve loss and placements often arise in situations of tragedy or trauma, so the demands on kinship carers can be challenging. Yet kinship placements rarely attract the same degree of focused and targeted support as other placements in the care system.
However, as a group, kin children seem to be doing better or at least as well as those in unrelated foster care. On the whole though, they do not fare as well as children in the general population with at least 20% of children raised in kinship care experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties.
Kinship carers are often suffering long-term health issues, disabilities and deprivation among kin and many carers are under strain. There is an urgent need for better support for both carers and children that is responsive to need rather than to the legal status of the kinship arrangements, the taskforce says in the report.
“The number of children in the care system is at its highest level since 1985. The child welfare and family justice system has been described as being in crisis. Yet for children in and on the edge of care, the wider family and community is often an untapped resource. A greater focus and commitment to exploring and supporting those families could safely avert many more children from having to come into care, which is in the interests of the children themselves, society and the taxpayer,” the report added.
However, local authorities are not consistently exploring potential kinship care placements as a realistic option at an early stage. When kinship placements are considered, it is often late in the day, leading to the process being rushed. Kinship carers said they lacked sufficient information to make an informed decision and were unsure about their rights during the assessment process. In many cases, they felt they were forced into making a choice with little time to prepare.
The taskforce outlines how more than one in two kinship carers has to give up work or reduce their hours, yet most receive little if any financial support. The report urges employers to be flexible to the needs of kinship carers, and consideration should be given to extending the right to paid employment leave and protection (currently available to adopters) to kinship carers.
Research indicates that kinship households are more likely to be located in less affluent areas and kinship carers are likely to be living on a lower income than the general population of parents and unrelated foster carers. These financial pressures have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report outlines recommendations for a number of reforms to the welfare system to support kinship carers.
Evidence from the inquiry also revealed that there are a whole range of areas in which kinship carers would benefit from effective support services such as help with managing contact arrangements, training and therapeutic support for dealing with children’s trauma and other issues, and benefits and welfare advice.
Furthermore, as 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 recommends the extension of Pupil Premium Plus, Virtual School Heads, and the National Tutoring Programme to all children being raised in kinship care.
“In order to deliver the new legal duties and powers recommended by the Taskforce, the government should consider introducing a Kinship Care Bill. A dedicated Bill would not only deliver the changes required to improve kinship care support, it would also be a clear demonstration that Parliament and the government recognise the challenges faced by kinship carers and value their vital role in keeping families together,” the report concluded.
First Thought Not Afterthought: Report of the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care