Change Is Needed In Kinship Care

What happens when children can’t remain living at home?

That is when family and friends care, kinship care comes into its importance. Evidence has shown, that children who are raised by family members, benefit from the sense of belonging, being able to grow up around family members where they know they are loved.

However, what is clear, is that many kinship carers struggle to access the financial, practical, and emotional support they and the children they care for need, and this needs to change.

What Change Is Needed In Kinship Care?

A webinar, Supporting kinship care – getting the legislative framework right took place on the 24th November 2021, with key figures providing a view regarding the place of kinship care and more importantly what needs to change when it comes to the framework around kinship care.

The overall arching message that came through was that a legislative framework is needed specifically for kinship carers. There was frustration that they have been fitted into regulations that do not serve them well, such as the regulations for mainstream foster carers and special guardianship orders. Neither of which fully meets the needs of kinship carers specifically in the long run.

The reasons for this firstly, are that family members don’t want to be foster carers. They want to be kinship carers and to be recognised as such for the value they bring to the children they care for.

Secondly, family members who obtain special guardianship orders are often left literally holding the baby with little to no support. It’s an arena where the loudest may be able to obtain some support services, whilst others are not. There are 180,000 children who are being cared for in different family arrangements in the UK, and the message that came across was that what is in place currently is not working well when it comes to meeting the needs of kinship families and the children they care for.

All professionals and kinship carers who contributed to the discussion, all agreed that what is needed is a separate Kinship Care Order with its own legal framework specific to the needs of all kinship children in placement. They no longer wanted to see this divide on how resources are distributed depending on the order the children are placed under. What is needed is a single kinship order where all children being cared for in family arrangements have the right to receive equal access to resources and support services. 

You can watch the webinar which has been recorded.

Supporting kinship care – getting the legislative framework right by Family Rights Group

The webinar discusses the legal status of the child (primarily whether they are or have been looked after) rather than the extent of their needs, which tends to determine access to support for children in kinship care. It discusses, what needs to change to ensure the children are supported to live safely and thrive in their family network. It looks at what can be learned from the experience of other countries.

These are the people you will hear from in the Webinar:

Sanchia Berg – Award-Winning BBC Correspondent, Today Programme

Janet Kay – Kinship carer, adopter, and former social worker and lecturer. Member of the Experts by Experience Board of the Care Review

Dr John Simmonds OBE, Chair of the Kinship Care Alliance, Director of Policy, Research and Development at CoramBaaf

Donna Weaver – Kinship carer of three children, Director of Kinship Carers UK, and a member of Family Rights Group Kinship Carers Panel

Shanayd Warren – Special Guardian and member of the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board’s Special Guardians Reference Group

Janet Boddy – Professor of Child, Youth and Family Studies, University of Sussex

Paul Nixon – Former Chief Social Worker for Children, Youth and Families in New Zealand

Caroline Lynch – Principal Legal Adviser at Family Rights Group

Here are the key messages that they made:-

Sanchia Berg

Opens the discussion, with an illustration of how a local authority used a holiday lodge to care for a vulnerable 15-year-old boy who had been through 15 different placements because they had nowhere else for him to be placed. This showed how the system is strained, but more importantly how kinship care can alleviate this strain.

Janet Kay

Is a kinship carer for her grandson. She reflects on her own experience, she spoke of being ‘clueless’, she started with a Child Arrangements Order on the advice of the social workers. As a result, she had no rights and could not access any support. She called this the “dump and run” a phrase used by kinship carers, to describe this process.

Janet highlighted that kinship carers have financial issues, are older, and may have poorer health, they need practical support around contact which is fraught with emotional and practical problems. She spoke of housing problems and variation in support at schools. She highlighted the value of having peer support which helps kinship carers to manage their role.

She would like to see a framework that provides for this support. What hit home was her final point, she would like to see social workers who know and appreciate kinship care and support this caring arrangement.

John Simmonds

Gave a history of family and kinship in East London from a study in the 1950s. He spoke of how family structures were affected by the war. After the bombing of the docks, houses were destroyed and families were re-housed. Prior to this, there had been an urban working class with a tight-knit community, which was disrupted when the families were moved. He spoke of how kinship arrangements that had naturally been in place, where families worked out their problems and found a family solution began to break down when the families were moved out of London.

He reiterated that kinship care is important in the way our society operates and it needs to be valued once again. Secondly, he spoke of the direct experience of kinship carers is that they feel marginalised, abandoned by the authorities, very like that study in the 1950s.

Donna Weaver

Is a kinship carer who shares her personal experience. She spoke of how she had just one hour to make the decision to take a partner’s grandson. She did not have the luxury of time or training preparation. She found the local authority then deemed the arrangement to be a private arrangement, thereby excluding her from being able to obtain any support.

Shanayd Warren

Is an SGO carer for her niece, she spoke of how she found the SGO assessment intrusive. She gave up her full-time employment, felt isolated and alone. She would have liked to have had access to information about the role that was being asked. The information provided was aimed at mainstream foster carers or adopters. Another aspect she found was that she had to explain her circumstances over and over to professionals. What she found to be of most value was peer-to-peer support.

Professor Janet Boddy

Professor Broddy, looks at family using three studies, highlighting that there is a dividing line between state and family responsibility. She spoke of the lack of support from child welfare systems which forces kinship families into more poverty. Her message is that policy needs to recognise the importance of state support through childhood and beyond, particularly in kinship arrangements.

Paul Nixon, Social Worker – New Zealand

Paul introduced refreshing ideas from abroad and his contributions show just how far behind we are in the UK compared to New Zealand who values kinship care more widely.

He spoke of how in New Zealand, kinship care is a distinct care type that has been approached in a certain way. Their approach is to start from a place that values the wisdom of the families.

Family Group Conferencing is statutory in New Zealand, this is core in the legal decision process. As a result, in New Zealand, they have low numbers of children in mainstream care and a high number in kinship care.

What he notes is that family meetings take place much earlier on in the process. There are 5250 children in kinship care arrangements in New Zealand. 62% of looked after children are in kinship care in NZ, as opposed to 15% in the UK. Adoption rates in NZ and Australia are very low, due to the use of kinship arrangements.

He highlights that the 1989 Children’s Act didn’t change the ethos of kinship care, it tried to squeeze kinship carers into a fostering system.

He spoke of how kinship care is a distinct service type – the profile of kinship carers and children is very different, surely we need a different policy practice and framework. He advocates that we need to change the thinking around kinship care and give it the respect and value that it needs.

His final message, children do better in kinship because they have been picked and chosen by their kinship family and this supports their identity.

Caroline Lynch

Caroline approaches this from a legal viewpoint. She would like to see a legislative framework for kinship care, that supports kinship care in all its guises and supports kinship care when it comes to working out benefits, education housing, etc, health,

She believes that kinship care needs a legal framework that will give a cross-governmental definition of kinship care which will give clarity across organisations.

She highlights that it is not right that a child has to enter the care system in order to gain services. For example, only if a child is a CLA (Child Looked After) prior to SGO then they are entitled to support services, this needs to change. All children in kinship arrangements need equal access to support services. She highlights that is not about eligibility, it is about the denial of support. For example, under Section 20 (consent by parent placements) – carers are told that they are not entitled to support but this is not correct, there is case law about this. This needs to be clarified in law so that these ongoing difficulties no longer happen. Caroline said, “We are lacking a national strategy in kinship care”.

The webinar ended by opening a case discussion, inviting attendees to consider “What does an effective system look like”.

What are your views? What do you think needs to change when it comes to kinship care.

Special Guardianship Info –  Giving SGO a Voice