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Wed, 02 Nov 22 10:00

Standing shoulder to shoulder with kinship families

There are over 150,000 children growing up in kinship care in England today, and with the publication of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care last month, we finally saw some real national recognition of their experiences, needs and strengths – and those of their carers too.

The Review noted that the “thousands of grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters who care for their family members” have for too long existed as a “silent and unheard majority” in children’s social care and now deserve “far greater recognition and support”.

I wholeheartedly agree.

My interest in and support for kinship care is personal as well as professional - having direct experience in my own close family as some of you will know. A decision, made as a result of an unexpected situation many years ago, which continues to reverberate through our family as it does for many others. That said it isn’t something we would have changed and I know that to be the case for many of the kinship carers I have met in my director of children’s services role.

The Review’s recommendations to improve support for kinship carers are welcome, including the provision of financial allowances and employment leave to give families the financial stability they need at a time of crisis (you can find a handy summary of the recommendations for kinship care here).

Together with proposed ring-fenced funding for earlier family help and new plans to “unlock the potential of family networks”, there’s a real opportunity to shift how we both think about and structure support for the family and friends who step up to care for children when their parents are unable to. But in order for this to work, it must be backed by significant investment.

A strategic focus from government on kinship care in particular is long overdue in my humble opinion. We should be ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with our kinship families, collectively advocating for a vision where all kinship carers and their children get the support they deserve.

And it can start now. There’s lots we can all do today to improve experiences for children and their families by prioritising and investing in kinship care locally.

The Review makes a strong case for how investing in kinship care can prevent the need for more costly intervention later and unlocks significant resources which can be spent supporting other children and families. It just makes sense. Nottinghamshire County Council recently announced additional investment in its kinship service and I know of many other local authorities already in the process of developing new kinship strategies.

In Walsall, we’ve worked closely with the charity Kinship to deliver two programmes of support for our kinship carers. Kinship Connected has helped our carers to develop long-term supportive networks through one-to-one family support and local peer support groups facilitated by a project worker embedded within our own local authority team and the community. Kinship Ready has offered our new special guardians a series of preparatory workshops on key topics such as contact and support plans in order to help them in their new caring role.

We were proud to be able, with some of our kinship carers, to share all of this with the Review team when they visited Walsall during their evidence-gathering phase. I hope in some way we contributed to the shifting focus we now see.

Having read the Review, and its many recommendations and annexed documents, several times over the last two weeks, there are many things that my experience tells me need much more careful thought and consideration before decisions are made. The section detailing the support for Kinship feels different to me, however, my hope is that it isn’t diluted or ignored but strengthened as a key part of how we all really work with families in the future.

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