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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

Kinship Care: An opportunity not to be missed

It’s the day after Boxing Day as I write this blog and whilst I hope many of you will still be delving into that tub of chocolates and enjoying time with family and friends, I have spent this morning reading Championing Kinship Care: The National Kinship Care Strategy published just before Christmas. We’ve probably all been touched by kinship care at some point in our lives. For me, back in the 1980s and 90s, my parents brought up my two nephews for much of their childhood. There’s no doubt that the focus and profile government is giving to kinship care is long overdue and the importance and impact of kinship care on children can never by overstated.

Following the publication of Stable homes built on love (SHBOL), ADCS put together a working group of Directors of Children’s Services to examine the existing barriers to kinship care and consider how things could be done differently. ADCS President John Pearce asked me to lead this which I was delighted to do although it became quickly evident that it was not going to be straightforward, and honestly, a lot harder than we thought, going backwards and forwards over what this new and improved system should look like and how it should be implemented. Ultimately, we decided to narrow our thoughts to the fundamental principles which we see as being non-negotiable and think should be at the heart of a new system leading to us publishing a paper on this in the autumn.

One of the conceptual shifts we need to make is that transforming the system for kinship care just doesn’t work if you try and shoehorn this into the legislation and the system as it currently stands. We’ve got to think long term and reimagine our ambition against the backdrop and context of family help as envisioned in SHBOL. This can be challenging since many aspects of what is outlined in SHBOL are still in the process of being developed and tested through various pathfinders, and the eight kinship care pathfinders have yet to be announced. It’s going to be crucial that the learning and synergy across the various pathfinders is fully understood (for example, the family network aspect of the Families First for Children pathfinders and the forthcoming ones on kinship care will probably be focusing on the same children).

In the ADCS paper, we talk about extended family care rather than kinship care. We think this more accurately describes any person connected to a child through family, marriage or an adult that they have a meaningful relationship with. And that’s because the family aspect is so important here; it’s the intangible connection to a child which motivates someone to turn their life upside down and do everything they can for that child to keep them safe and help them to thrive.

It’s so important that this new system makes it easier for kinship carers. The different pathways must be simplified, access to support must be easier, and there needs to be more understanding about the specific needs of these children and their carers. ADCS still has some key questions over the role of the local authority in the broadest sense as a coordinator and/or facilitator of support for kinship carers, and more specifically the role of children’s social care; we do not believe that a legal order should be a gateway to support. All entitlements which should be defined at a national level, including financial, should be available to all extended family carers and rooted through the welfare system in the form of a ‘child benefit plus’ payment. There’s so much learning to be had from overseas, and we’ve heard first-hand how well this works in New Zealand to avoid any additional stigma and involvement form social workers.

Whilst there is much to applaud in the National Kinship Care Strategy, it’s important that designing a new system doesn’t inadvertently create a two-tier system or lead to unintended consequences by either pulling family members into the children’s social care system or disadvantaging families who would never be known to social workers but who the new system should be supporting.

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