Kinship carers are doing the right thing by their families, it’s time the state does right by them
Kinship carers are doing a brilliant job in fulfilling a vital role, often in the face of huge pressures and alongside their other family commitments, writes Catherine McKinnell MP| PA Images
Small additional investment in kinship care now, will enable more children to remain safely within their families and save substantial economic and social costs in the longer term.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. For children who have suffered tragedy or trauma and can’t safely live with their parents, they might be raised by grandma, or an uncle, or their sister instead. This is kinship care and there are more than 180,000 children across the UK raised by such carers.
Kinship carers step up, often with little notice or time to consider options, to give children a safe and loving home within their existing family and friend networks, averting the need to enter the care system.
There are significantly more children in kinship care than are in the care system and many more than are adopted. They prop up a care system which is bursting at the seams. Yet, kinship care is widely unrecognised, underappreciated and often poorly supported.
Hearing heart-breaking stories from kinship carers in my constituency in Newcastle led me to join the cross-party Kinship Care Taskforce in Parliament.
Being a kinship carer can come with many challenges, from legal battles to secure a legal order for the child, to the financial pressures of raising children. Many carers must give up work or reduce their hours to undertake their new caring responsibilities. The children often have additional needs as a result of the experiences that have led to them being in kinship care, and the carers are more likely to be suffering from long-term health issues, disabilities and deprivation.
Anna Turley, then MP for Redcar, had the vision to bring our cross-party group together, supported by the charity Family Rights Group, to work on solutions to address the challenges facing kinship carers and bring about some much-needed change.
Our inquiry has heard from kinship carers across England and Wales, who have shared their worries, dreams and aspirations. We’ve also taken extensive evidence from professionals working in the children’s social care and family justice system, from the third sector, from local authorities, and many others.
The key message we’ve heard is that kinship carers are doing a brilliant job in fulfilling a vital role, often in the face of huge pressures and alongside their other family commitments. Too often, these families find themselves having to struggle on alone or having to fight for recognition and support.
Moreover, with record numbers of children in the care system and this expected to rise further, we have found that family placements are not consistently and effectively explored and supported.
We want kinship care to stop being treated as an afterthought
Kinship care is an untapped resource which could ensure more children stay within their family network and out of the care system. An outcome which is better for the child, society and the taxpayer.
Today our Taskforce is launching our report which presents a vision for the future of kinship care and a plan for change. We want kinship care to stop being treated as an afterthought.
Potential kinship care placements should be explored early, families should be properly informed ahead of making decisions, and any need for additional support should be assessed. Where there are legal proceedings, potential kinship carers should be supported with specialist legal advice, information and advocacy services so that they are not forced into debt.
We are urging the government to extend employment leave and protection, as is currently available for adopters, to kinship carers. We also propose a number of welfare measures to ensure that kinship carers are not penalised, for example by the Benefit Cap and Bedroom Tax, as a result of taking on the children.
Effective support services, including peer support groups, training and therapeutic support should be the standard and not a postcode lottery. And we recommend the extension of measures like Pupil Premium Plus, Virtual School Heads, and the National Tutoring Programme to all children being raised in kinship care to ensure they can reach their full potential.
It’s a difficult financial climate and children’s social care is one of the greatest pressures on government budgets. A relatively small additional investment now will enable more children to remain safely within their families and save substantial economic and social costs in the longer term.
Kinship carers are doing the right thing by their families, and we believe the state needs to do the right thing by them, to ensure those placements are a success and that the children are supported to reach their full potential.
Catherine McKinnell is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North.