This Kinship Care Week I want to highlight the amazing work that kinship carers do to provide loving and stable homes for children and to start a conversation about how we can best support them.
Kinship care is when a child moves into a living arrangement with a relative or friend who isn’t their parent. There are different types of arrangements, including Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) which is a court order that enables the ‘special guardian’ to share responsibility for the child with the parents.
On Monday, I showcased resources for kinship care week and a video that my team developed with Kinship Carers Liverpool and another helpful resource developed by the group. I hope you have enjoyed learning more about kinship care through these videos.
Today I want to reflect on the importance of kinship carers and consider some of the support they need. In the Family Review I heard that kinship carers often step in at times of crisis to care for children in their wider family network. The carers and children create a new family arrangement and provide children with the love and stability they need to thrive.
I also heard from families more widely that they choose to access help and support from their own network, including their parents, grandparents, and in some cases, friends. Kinship carers form a central part of this wider family support, and that’s why it is critical that they get recognition and support they need.
During the Review my team spoke with kinship carers at a support group. These carers spoke of the close bonds they have with their grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings and other relatives that they care for. Kinship families powerfully demonstrate one of the key findings of my Review – that it is not the composition of a family that matters the most, but the quality of relationships within it.
Importantly, kinship care arrangements can provide a supportive environment for siblings by ensuring that they can live in the same family arrangement and maintain their close bonds.
Kinship carers reflected that becoming a carer can often occur suddenly, and through difficult family circumstances. It can disrupt established family routines and require a re-establishing of family relationships. My team heard from kinship carers who had to give up work or move house in order to care for their relative. Many children living in kinship care arrangements have had a very difficult start in life, and their behaviour can be greatly affected by their past experiences.
The kinship carers I spoke to talked about feeling unsupported by statutory services because their relative is not considered a looked-after child:
“our children are mostly forgotten about. They’re not classed as looked after children because we stopped them going into the care system, that’s why we’re not entitled to any support”– Kinship carer, female, support group.
Carers talked about the difficulties they faced when establishing what legal arrangement would provide them with the support and recognition they need. They spoke about SGOs and how they felt encouraged to apply for an SGO but that this can result in the removal of practical and financial support for their family:
“As kinship carers we step in to do the right thing, we’re advised by the local authority to go for SGO to secure things for the children and that’s what we want. However, what isn’t explained is most of the time these children come with traumas of some kind, and if they stayed on ‘Family and Fostering Connected’, which we know is more money for the local authority then those children, our grandchildren, are classed as priority for mental health services and have all the therapies available to them. However, the moment we sign the SGO to do the right thing, everything’s taken away from the children as well as from ourselves support wise” – Kinship carer, female, support group.
Carers spoke of a desire to formalise support for kinship families and for greater access to support to understand their rights and options:
“we should be in a position of focusing on the kids and we’re pulled in all directions, particularly through the process of getting an SGO, then once you’ve got it, yeah, you’re basically left to paddle your own canoe. So it’s not acceptable really. It does need to be addressed formally through a legal framework and clear policies for local authorities to follow” – Kinship carer, female, support group.
I am committed to ensuring that kinship carers get the support they need. That’s why earlier this year, I called for greater practical and financial support for those on SGOs.
I am also concerned that due to restrictions in the data, it is difficult to establish exactly how many children live in kinship care. The best available data to estimate the number of children in kinship care is 10 years out of date. While the 2021 census will be available soon, the 2011 census suggests there were 152,910 children in kinship care in either informal or legal care arrangements.
While Kinship Care Week is a vital opportunity to celebrate children in kinship and their carers, my work on amplifying their voices and seeking change for children and carers will extend beyond this week.
I’m looking forward to talking to the Kinship Care All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in the next few weeks about the findings from the Family Review on the important role that kinship care can play in children’s lives. In the next part of the Review, I will bring forward plans to how to improve both data collection and data-sharing between agencies working with children and families. I want to ensure that the data on children and families captures the full family unit, including informal kinship care arrangements and where children live across more one household.
Finally, I want to thank all of the brilliant kinship carers that are providing loving and stable homes for children. I look forward to hearing from more carers and children in my work to support kinship care in the future.