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Kinship carers need financial support, access to advice and support

All kinship carers should receive the financial support they need, a charity has argued.

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There are more than 162,400 children in kinship care in England and Wales, nearly double the 88,115 children in local authority care. Not only do children have better experiences and outcomes in kinship care, but recent economic analysis has found that for every £1 local authorities invest in kinship care, there is a return of £1.20 - a 20% return on investment.

It costs local authorities more to deal with the fallout of not supporting kinship families properly.

“All kinship carers should receive the financial support they need, including a non means tested financial allowance that matches the current minimum fostering allowance. They should also be entitled to kinship care leave (on a par with adoption leave) when the child first moves into their care,” said the report published by the charity, Kinship.

The report explains that most kinship carers take on the role at a time of crisis, with the full financial cost of the child, usually without any financial support. They take on the responsibility for every aspect of the child’s wellbeing and development. Given that children in kinship care have often had difficult experiences, this can lead to them displaying their distress in behaviours that can be hard to manage. Even so, kinship carers make sure the children’s emotional, behavioural, health and educational needs are met, again usually without help or support.

When compared to parents or other cohorts of carers like foster carers, kinship carers are more likely to be older, in poorer health, living in poverty and deprivation, living in insecure accommodation, and be in low paid employment or unemployed. Kinship care is also far more prevalent in Black and minority ethnic communities.

Kinship cares often report that support available is inadequate, the report warns. There is no clear national strategy on how kinship carers should be supported and currently, support is based on the legal status of the child rather than their level of need. Some local authorities are beginning to offer better support to special guardians, but informal kinship carers still struggle to receive any support.

“Kinship carers are being pushed into poverty, having to choose between feeding themselves or the children. They are left alone to raise children with complex needs with no support,” said the report.

“Many kinship carers are now at breaking point. If the children were not living with their kinship families, most would be in local authority care. This would overwhelm the already stretched children’s social care system. It would also have an adverse impact on children. When compared to children in local authority care, children in kinship care are more likely to have stability, better health, development and educational outcomes, and better relationships with their families,” it adds.

Kinship is calling for the following changes immediately:

  • All kinship carers should receive the financial support they need.
  • All kinship families should have access to independent information and advice, including free legal advice, from the point they are considering becoming kinship carers.
  • All kinship families should have access to all the support they need. This support should include health, education, and therapeutic support for the children. It should also include: preparation and training; practical, emotional, and therapeutic support; peer support; and support with contact for the carers.

To ensure a future fit for kinship care, the charity says data and research is needed to know how many kinship families there are, their demographics, and what their level of need is. All kinship carers should have the legal right to: legal aid for any legal proceedings for the child; a role in legal proceedings; and the support they need.

All decisions that affect children and families at both a national and local level should specifically take into consideration the needs of kinship families. Every local authority should have specialist kinship care teams with specially trained practitioners and more must be done to raise awareness of kinship care among the professionals who work with them and among society more generally.

“We are at a crossroads. Kinship care is finally being recognised as an important part of the children’s social care system. It offers a positive alternative for children who cannot live with their parents to live with people they know and love. However, without the right support, planning, and investment, kinship care will continue to be the poor relation of foster care and adoption,” said the report.

“Well-supported kinship care works. The recommendations in this report will improve the circumstances and outcomes for kinship families now and build a system that works for kinship families and reduces pressure on children’s social care into the future. This will lead to more children being able to live in stable homes with people they know and love,” the report concludes.

Out of the shadows - A vision for kinship care in England

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