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What the Care Review recommendations will mean for kinship care

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recently published its final recommendations, proposing measures to bolster kinship care. However, campaigners say much will depend on whether appropriate funding is made for the plans.

06/06/22

What the Care Review recommendations will mean for kinship care

Support for kinship carers could be transformed by proposals in the review of children’s services, if the funding is forthcoming, campaigners have said.

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care said that a Family Network Plan should be introduced ‘to support and give oversight to family-led alternatives to care.’

It calls for a new legal definition of kinship care, taking into account the wide-ranging circumstances under which family members provide care for children. “These carers would benefit from being part of a wider recognised community in order to access broader sources of support.”

The review says that the current Department for Education-funded plan to develop kinship peer support groups in all local authorities needs expanding further and at a faster pace. Local authorities should promote peer support and training to all kinship carers, beyond those directly involved with local children’s services departments.

The review also recommended that special guardians and kinship carers should receive significant financial support. Currently, kinship carers receive support while they are foster carers, but this is often withdrawn if they take out a Special Guardianship Order.

It quotes a case study in which a grandmother felt pressured into taking out such an order, which would have given her permanent parental responsibility but would also have meant that she lost all financial support, and her grandchildren would have lost priority access to mental health services.

The report recommends, ‘All authorities should make a financial allowance paid at the same rate as their fostering allowance for special guardians and kinship carers with a Child Arrangement Order [CAO] looking after children who would otherwise be in care.’

Paid kinship leave of up to 39 weeks should be given as well, matching the statutory entitlement for adopters.

Access to legal aid is another key area identified in the report: the parliamentary group for kinship carers is looking into the effects of cuts to the legal aid system for this group. Cuts to legal aid in 2012 have removed access to specialist support from nearly all private family law cases since then.
Read more: https://www.socialworktoday.co.uk/News/Inquiry-launched-as-kinship-carers-face-%E2%80%98substantial%E2%80%99-debt-when-securing-legal-orders

“I feel really positive and optimistic in that for kinship carers and professionals working in the sector, our voices have been heard,” said Ann Horne, a social worker who specialises in kinship care, and who is a consultant at Coram BAAF (British Association of Adoption and fostering).

“One of the challenges of kinship care that the review does try to address is that there is a huge postcode lottery from local authorities to local authority about what kinship carers receive. Some authorities pay an entirely non-means-tested allowance to kinship carers if they are granted a special guardianship order or child arrangement order, for the very reason that they do not want there to be a disincentive for people to take permanent orders.

“Other local authorities means-test and others say: ‘we will pay you the fostering allowance for two years once you’ve taken the guardianship order’. Then there are some that don’t pay any allowance.

“If implemented, statutory financial support would be a significant achievement for the kinship care community.

“So many kinship carers make immense sacrifices because they love those children and…want to keep them within their family. This may mean giving up their jobs, using all their savings…a large proportion of kinship carers are grandparents many of whom had no intention to start bringing up children again at their age. So they are drawing on their life savings, and altering their life plans at very short notice. Many of them are living in poverty as a result.

“Any means testing unintentionally disadvantages older carers because you might have a kinship carer on Pension Credit, it means their outgoings might not be very high and so a basic means test does not award them a very high amount. But Pension Credit was created to protect the poorest pensioners, there is just not enough to bring up a child on their pension credit.”

“So a fundamental equity around financial allowance would be a significant win for the kinship population. It would be huge.

“I think the Family Network Plan is welcome. There is a kind of kind of expectation for more detail around reflecting some existing social work practice around the involvement of, say, the grandparents providing some form of respite.

“Around local authorities that use family group conferences there may well be a family plan that articulates which family members are going to pick up the child from school one day a week – that type of thing.

“What is new about it is making it a statutory requirement for consideration of a Family Network Plan before the family is moved into a public law outline. It is crucial as well that they would be statutorily be required to have financial support, oversight and monitoring because I think that is where a lot of kinship carers fall through the gap.

“They want to step in and help and provide a weekend of respite once a month or even a more regular arrangement where they are caring for a child two or three nights a week, but unless many families are given the financial support to enable that, it is not something many families can do.

“It comes back to the postcode lottery and, in the context of Austerity, it is very difficult for many local authorities to make discretionary payments. That’s not criticism of them; that is just the reality.

“The proposals are new in that respect. It is building on existing social work practice but there are new elements in it. So I think really welcome.”

Kinship, the charity which supports and campaigns for kinship carers said welcomed the review’s recommendations on financial support.

The proposals, it says, are ‘significant progress on financial allowances, preparation and training, paid kinship care leave and access to legal aid and advice’.

“We believe these recommendations mark a step change in how we consider and support kinship care and represent major wins based on what we’ve campaigned for.”

It called proposals to support kinship arrangements and for informal kinship “a step in the right direction. These recommendations could deliver major improvements but important questions about their design and implementation remained.”

Its main criticism of the review was in its recommendations for kinship carers engagement with proceedings and support for children in kinship care: “we don’t see strong recognition of kinship carers or their children in these recommendations and want to see the government’s response go much further.”

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