Thousands of kinship carers are set to be better supported as the government launches the first ever national kinship care strategy, ‘Championing Kinship Care’.
The strategy shines a spotlight on the incredible kinship carers – grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and wider family networks – that provide loving homes to children who cannot live with their parents, and who will now receive greater financial stability and support from local authorities and schools.
Backed by £20 million to deliver the strategy, the government has confirmed it will provide an allowance to many kinship carers to match that received by foster carers – currently between £154 and £270 per week, per child. This is being trialled in up to 8 areas of the country and will help ensure that people do not have to choose between becoming a carer and being able to afford to support their families.
It will also expand the role of virtual school heads – education champions within local authorities – to cover kinship care. They will ensure that the education of children in kinship care is prioritised so they go on to have bright futures.
Foster care has also been bolstered today with an additional £8.5 million. This takes the total government investment across this parliament to £36 million, which is the largest ever investment in fostering in England. The funding will ensure there are more foster carers available to step up and look after children by extending recruitment campaigns, simplifying recruitment processes, and providing better support for existing foster carers to even more local authorities.
The new kinship strategy and extra foster care funding are part of a suite of initiatives also launched, which meet commitments set out in the ambitious children’s social care strategy, ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’, published earlier this year. Children and Families Minister, David Johnston, said:
“Kinship carers do incredible work to support and nurture children who might otherwise go into care and I am very proud that the Government has published the first ever strategy for kinship care today.
I have met kinship carers from so many different backgrounds and with different experiences, but in telling their stories they always stress that they were never expecting to look after a child but they did so out of love.
Kinship carers are often hidden in plain sight and today’s strategy paves the way for them to be given the practical and financial support they deserve for the pivotal role they play in children’s lives.
We are committed to reforming the whole children’s social care system to support families – right from the point they face challenges and need support, all the way to transforming the experience children have when in care.”
More than 130,000 children live in kinship care arrangements in England and kinship carers make up over a fifth of all foster carers. There are also a range of other formal and informal routes for extended family members to provide additional support to children in kinship care arrangements, including special guardianship.
The strategy sets out a wide range of additional support for kinship carers, from new training and information so they have a better understanding of their rights, to high-quality peer support within local communities. A key commitment of the government’s wider children’s social care strategy is to improve partnership working across all relevant agencies, including the police, health and education.
That’s why the government has also updated the guidance, ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’. This guidance clarifies the roles and responsibilities of safeguarding partners such as local authorities and the police, embeds new child protection standards and sets out the importance of having a multi-agency response to protect children from harm.
The government has published a children’s social care national framework setting out the core principles and goals of children’s social care. This will ensure all the relevant organisations have a joint understanding of what children’s social care should deliver for the families and children it supports.
Family Rights Group, a specialist child welfare charity working to ensure children can live safely within their family, has responded to the government’s strategy. Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:
“The publication of the first ever national strategy to promote and support kinship care should be a cause for celebration. This is a moment Family Rights Group has been working towards, alongside families, for more than two decades. Thousands of relatives and friends step in to raise children every year, and many more could do so with the right support.
The strategy provides an important opportunity to raise the profile of kinship care and it does make some welcome steps forward. However, we are concerned that the strategy falls victim to the same timid ambitions that are holding back the Government’s wider plans for children’s social care.
Family Rights Group worked with families to set six tests for the strategy, for it to deliver meaningful change to families across the country. It falls disappointingly short on them all.
- Defining kinship care – Family Rights Group has led the campaign for a clear, inclusive definition of kinship care written into law. We welcome the Government’s commitment to develop that definition and we have worked with them to do so. However, failing to commit to putting this in primary legislation will significantly curtail its potential impact.
- Advice – Without independent specialist advice, many prospective kinship carers do not understand their rights and options, and this can have long term consequences for them and the child. The strategy makes no further progress on this.
- Employment leave – We very much hope the new guide for employers will be widely adopted. Without a nationwide right to paid employment leave, akin to adoption leave, there will be another lottery in support.
- Financial support – The small-scale pilot could open the door sometime in the distant future to a national allowance. For now, children will have to have been in the care system to qualify. Families are facing real hardship today. The current system of financial support is not fit for purpose. Failing to fix the present problems squanders an opportunity to start helping families nationwide this coming year.
- Education – A lack of support in school is a struggle for many children in kinship care so expanding the Virtual School Head role may help some.
- Therapy – Rebranding the Adoption Support Fund will remove a barrier to eligible special guardians accessing therapeutic services for the children. But this is purely a cosmetic change that fails to expand eligibility to all children who need it.
The strategy has been billed as a once in a generation opportunity to put kinship care on a level playing field. With the children’s social care system in crisis, more children could be living safely and thriving in the love and care of their relatives and friends. Will this strategy make a meaningful difference to families on the ground? As it stands, we fear not.”