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It’s time the government step up to support kinship care

It’s time the government step up to support kinship care
3 min read

For too long we have been failing kinship carers. The thousands of grandparents, aunties, uncles, siblings and friends raising children when their parents are unable to – the “silent and unheard majority in the children’s social care system”.

But now we hope to see the matter put right – and the services and funding put in place to support them.

After 14 months of listening to those with different lived, learned and professional experiences, the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has today published its final report and recommendations. The new direction for how the state supports children and families marks a pivotal moment for kinship care.

There are over 150,000 children growing up in kinship care in England, although this figure is likely a significant underestimate. We don’t know the true number as little formal data is gathered on kinship care, and significantly less policy attention paid to supporting kinship carers and their children than those in foster care or who are adopted.

This is despite evidence showing children in kinship care have very similar needs and experiences to those in local authority care. Each year, thousands of family members and friends step up to raise children in times of crisis, providing a safe and loving home despite little entitlement to financial, practical or emotional support.

It’s essential the government acts with urgency to ensure today’s kinship families aren’t plunged into poverty

I’ve been pleased to be part of a special cross-party parliamentary taskforce on kinship care set up by former Redcar Labour MP Anna Turley and the APPG for Kinship Care – reports from both and others cry out for action.

But sadly, for years addressing kinship care has been in the “too difficult” box for a government torn between wanting to support stronger families but reluctant to unlock any funding to meaningfully do so.

The future of kinship care could however look remarkably different.

The Review’s recommendations for kinship care include providing financial allowances for kinship carers like those given to foster carers, paid employment leave on a par with statutory adoption leave, access to legal aid and advice so carers are supported to navigate the family courts, and improved peer support and training. It proposes “unlocking the potential of family networks” and shifting how we consider support for wider family members who take on a caring role in response to concerns about a child’s safety.

I’ve heard many kinship carers talk about the difference which earlier recognition and proper support would have made for them and their children and listened to tales of feeling abandoned, confused and forced into poverty.

The leading charity for kinship care in England and Wales – Kinship – has been supporting groups of kinship carers across the North East to campaign locally for changes to policy and practice, with promising commitments made by local authority leaders in response to their demands. I’m excited to continue supporting this work in my own constituency of Stockton North and to bringing together carers and colleagues from across the Tees Valley to share ideas and commit to further action.

But carers must see a similar promise from government in response to the Review.

And time is of the essence. Surveys of kinship carers in 2021 found that 82 per cent had worried about their finances in the past year and 13 per cent had been reliant on food banks. These figures are likely to rise steeply as the cost of living crisis deepens.

It’s essential the government acts with urgency to ensure today’s kinship families aren’t plunged into poverty, whilst maintaining the momentum needed to bring about long-term reforms for the kinship families of tomorrow.

It's high time the “silent and unheard” became the visible and championed.

 

Alex Cunningham is the Labour MP for Stockton North.

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