The government must step up support for kinship carers
It can happen to anyone. Maybe you are an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, or close family friend to a child you love. Perhaps you worry about whether they were getting the care they needed at home.
You may have been aware their parents had been struggling for some time, or there could have been a sudden bereavement. And then, out of the blue, you are asked by a social worker to open your door, as well as your heart, to a new baby, toddler, child, or teenager even though you might already have children of your own or plans for retirement. You don't know for how long you’ll need to look after them for and you're not promised any support. The only thing you're certain of is that if you don't say yes, the child will be taken into care.
Suddenly, you are no longer just an aunt or uncle, grandparent, or family friend. You're a kinship carer.
As many as eight in 10 carers are failing to receive the crucial support their family needs
There are more than 162,000 children in England and Wales being raised by kinship carers: the relatives and friends who step up to care for children when their parents aren't able to. That’s more than double the number of children growing up in foster care. Yet despite this, successive governments have largely ignored the role which kinship carers play and the challenges they face.
We know that, most of the time, children will fare better when looked after by a friend or relative than by a stranger. They get better grades, have better health and are more likely to find a job. The strength of the relationships they have with their family and friends act to protect them from many of the challenges associated with the instability of the care system.
However, taking on the role comes at enormous personal and financial cost for kinship carers. Unlike foster carers, most don’t get support to help them cover the costs of raising a child. Children in kinship care have had similar experiences of trauma and loss to those in local authority care, but their carers are left alone to manage often complex emotional and behavioural needs.
Similarly, children growing up in kinship care aren't provided with a guarantee of extra help in school. The Education Select Committee’s last report highlighted how policies like Pupil Premium Plus give extra funding to schools to boost the learning of children in local authority care. Why not for kinship children too?
There’s an urgent need for change. A new report published as part of the #ValueOurLove campaign from the charity Kinship has found that as many as eight in 10 carers are failing to receive the crucial support their family needs. Most worryingly, over a third of those carers feel they may be unable to continue caring for their kinship child as a result. This would be devastating, not just for the children, but also for the state, which would take on the financial cost of instead having to find foster carers or space in a children’s home.
That’s why, in July, we tabled the Kinship Care Bill in Parliament to ask ministers to step up support for kinship carers. Under our proposals, kinship carers would receive a weekly allowance on a par with foster carers. They’d also be entitled to paid time off work, just as adoptive parents get. Plus, we would support the education of children in kinship care, such as by giving them access to Pupil Premium Plus.
Change could be on the horizon, but we need the government to act boldly. The final report of the Independent Review of Children's Social Care published in May spoke of "unlocking the potential of family networks". It made several strong recommendations to boost support for kinship carers, including about allowances and paid time off work. It was a loud and clear message to the government that investing in kinship care makes sense.
Ministers now have a once-in-a-Parliament opportunity to transform the lives of kinship carers when it responds to the Review later this year. By backing the proposals in our bill, they could take the first steps towards a joined-up children’s social care system which ensures that children can achieve their potential in well-supported kinship care.
Family – in all its different forms – should be at the heart of government policymaking. Earlier this month we celebrated Kinship Care Week 2022, which recognises and champions kinship carers and their children. We both hope that by this time next year, we’ll also be able to celebrate a renewed government focus on the value of family and the value of kinship carers’ love.
Robert Halfon, Conservative MP for Harlow. Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham.
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