Response from Family Rights Group into the Local Government Ombudsman’s finding into complaint no 12 006 209 into Liverpool City Council, August 2013
Context: Mrs X complained to the Ombudsman that, in 2010, the Council failed to recognise that when she cared for her nephew the child should have been considered a ‘looked after child’ and the Council should have provided her with appropriate financial support. She also complained that when she obtained a Special Guardianship Order for her nephew in 2012 the Council’s decision as to what it should pay her was flawed.
Family Rights Group welcomes the Ombudsman’s finding that there was maladministration and injustice and that the council:
a) should have recognised Mrs X’s nephew (and his siblings) as looked after children in 2010 and therefore should have paid a family and friends fostering allowance;
b) subsequently removed child benefit from Mrs X’s Special Guardianship Allowance despite the Government recommending against doing so when a carer is on income support;
c) failed to pay Mrs X a Special Guardianship Allowance at the same rate as it pays Fostering Allowance to its foster carers, as is required by law; and
d) failed to pay its foster carers who care for children aged 0-4 years old at the National Minimum Fostering Allowance rate set by the Government.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group commented:
“This finding is good news for children who cannot live with their parents due to tragedy or trauma. The aunt’s situation in this case is not unusual, nor is Liverpool the only local authority that is failing to comply with the law. We regularly get cases on our advice line of a local authority placing a child, who would otherwise be in unrelated foster care, with a grandparent or wider family member and then trying to duck out of their responsibilities.
“The effect of a local authority placing a child with a family and friends carer but then not treating the child as looked after is that that the household is often driven into severe poverty. The family and friends carers aren’t entitled to financial help, many (38%) have to give up work to take on the children and unlike adopters they aren’t entitled to paid leave, As importantly, if a child is looked after, they have a right to support services, such as a priority school place and leaving care support, where as help for those outside the care system is mainly a postcode lottery.
“The reality is that severe financial pressures on local authorities means that for many vulnerable children the current system is not working. We desperately need a coherent national system of support for children in family and friends care including financial payments for those who cannot live with their parents and help based on the children’s needs not on whether they are in or outside the care system. The Government has the ideal opportunity to take such action by amending the Children and Families Bill that is currently before Parliament.”
Family Rights Group have drafted the following templates for family and friends carers who feel they are a similar situation to the aunt in this case to use in order to make a complaint:
Are you on income support and the council is deducting child benefit from the special guardianship allowance you receive?
Special Guardianship Order allowance & child benefit template letter
Are you a family and friends care foster carer who believes that you are being paid less than the national minimum fostering rate?
Fostering allowance template letter
If you are a family and friends carer who believes that the council has placed the child with you but is wrongly failing to treat the child as a looked after child...see our advice section.
The Children and Families Bill – family & friends care for children sidelined - write to your MP, Feb 2013
This Bill is now before Parliament.
Clause 1 (foster for adoption) exempts local authorities from giving preference to placing a child with a suitable parent or wider family member over an unrelated carer, if they are considering adoption.
The Bill rightly improves support for adopters, but unfortunately overlooks family and friends care support.
Family and friends carers need to alert their MPs about their concerns that vulnerable children may be deprived of being raised safely within their family network, unless the bill is amended. The Bill is also an opportunity for MPs to propose and support amendments drafted by Family Rights Group to improve support to family and friends carers, along the lines being put forward in the Bill for adopters.
Family and friends carers, who are raising some of the nation’s most vulnerable children, are being left to fend for themselves and suffer significant levels of hardship as local authorities fail to implement central government policy, according to major new research we have launched in March 2012.
When children are unable to live with either of their parents, official guidance stipulates they should be enabled to live with a member of their extended family or social network, provided this is feasible and in the child’s best interests. Yet one of the largest series of studies to date, by Family Rights Group, in partnership with Oxford University’s Centre for Family Law and Policy and the Kinship Care Alliance has uncovered a major lack of support for family and friends carers or ‘kinship carers’ and the estimated 250,000 children living with them.
The studies, which include: a survey of more than 490 carers raising more than 750 children; 95 in-depth interviews; an analysis of government data and a Freedom of Information request to local authorities, show:
• One in five children (20%) being cared for by a friend or family member had first been placed in unrelated foster care before eventually being moved to a kinship arrangement, creating twice the upheaval and placing unnecessary burdens on an already stretched care system
• Forty-five per cent of English local authorities had not published a family and friends care policy, more than five months after the government required them to do so
• Almost half of carers (44%) surveyed said they had received no practical help from their local authority and 95 per cent identified at least one form of support they had needed, but not received - most mentioned several. The great majority – more than 70 per cent - rated the support they had received from their local authority as poor or very poor
• 76% of carers surveyed felt they did not have enough understanding of the legal options and the implications for the level of support they would receive to make informed decisions
• Interviews with carers show that more than a third (38%) of children living with family and friends carers suffer emotional and behavioural problems and many have learning and physical disabilities
i.Hunt J and Waterhouse S (2012) Understanding family and friends care: the relationship between need, support and legal status (FRG/Oxford University Centre for Family Law and Policy). In depth interviews with 95 carer households
ii.Aziz R and Roth D (2012) Understanding family and friends care: analysis of the social and economic circumstances of family and friends carers (FRG). Analysis of Government’s “Understanding Society” carers survey of 77 kinship care children living in 68 households, contrasting them with other families from the same study
iii.Ashley C (Ed) Authors: Aziz R, Roth D and Lindley B (2012) Understanding family and friends care: The largest UK survey (FRG). An analysis of the response to an internet survey of family and friends carers of 495 family and friends carers’ households raising 762 kinship children.
iv.Ashley C (Ed) Authors: Roth D, Aziz R and Lindley B (2012) Understanding family and friends care: local authority policies – the good, the bad and the non existent (FRG) based on a Freedom of Information questionnaire sent in October 2011 and analysed in partnership with Grandparents Plus. The report finds that 45% of English local authorities have still not published a policy over five months after the deadline in the Government’s Statutory family and friends care guidance. It also analyses whether policies that have been published comply with the spirit of the guidance. We are publishing links to local authorities’ policies on our website, so you can easily find out if your own local authority’s has a policy.
Kinship Care Alliance: Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, November 2011
The Kinship Care Alliance has serious concerns about the legal aid bill that is currently going through Parliament. We fear it could result in impoverished relatives, such as grandparents not getting legal aid to cover the costs and court fees of applying for a permanent legal order so that their grandchild, who is at risk, can be live with them. We fear, that unless Ministers address such concerns, more children could end up at suffering abuse or in the care system, at greater cost to the child’s wellbeing and the public purse.
Statement from Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive Family Rights Group in response to Court of Appeal Judgement re Kent County Council (versus a grandparent carer), November 2011
“The Court of Appeal today has thrown out Kent Council’s claim that they did not have responsibility to support a grandmother, who had taken on the care of her grandchild in 2005, at their request. The Council claimed it was a private family arrangement despite their substantial involvement in placing the child. This long awaited judgement is significant in confirming that local authorities across the country who ask relatives or friends to care for children who cannot remain safely with their parents, have a legal duty to provide support including financial assistance for the child.
We are getting increasing number of calls to our advice service from impoverished relatives who are struggling to bring up very vulnerable children at their local authority’s request, but are subsequently denied help. This judgement therefore has widespread implications for them, yet cash strapped local authorities will struggle to meet this duty without additional government funding. It is now incumbent on both local and central government to find ways to ensure this ruling is implemented in children’s best interests.”
New school admissions code
The Government has announced that it is amending the admissions code to ensure that any looked after child who leaves care through adoption, a residence order, or special guardianship order, will continue to be given the same priority as those in care even though they are no longer looked after by the state.
Family Rights Group welcomed this news, although we are keen that the amendments go further and apply to other children in family and friends care who the courts or professionals have judged cannot live with their parents. In the meantime, one step that schools and local authorities could take would be to treat children in the same household as siblings for the purpose of admissions, so they can go to the same school together.
New on-line information for family and friends carers
Have you had a chance to look at our new interactive advice and information section for carers? Our easy to use guide will take family and friends carers and those considering caring for a child in their family step by step to the information they need. Please do give us feedback.
Family Rights Group launches consultancy support for local authorities on new family and friends care guidance
We have considerable expertise in working with and advising family and friends carers, as well as knowledge of the legal and practice framework. We are now offering a consultancy service to local authorities to assist them in developing family and friends care policies and ensuring compliance with the new family and friends care guidance. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kerry McCarthy's parental responsibility agreements bill for kinship carers
Following an interview on BBC Radio 4 Women's Hour on sibling carers with Cathy Ashley, our Chief Executive and Paul Prescod, a sibling carer of 6, Kerry McCarthy MP got in touch with us. As a result of our joint work, Kerry's Kinship Carers (Parental Responsibility Agreements) Bill was considered for second reading on the 21 October 2011. It is the first Bill to be considered by Parliament that exclusively addresses the situation of kinship carers and the children they are raising. Unfortunately it was opposed by Government whips, as is often the case with private members bills. However, we will be lobbying hard amongst politicians so that it is allowed to progress, when it goes before Parliament again on the 20th January 2012.
Welfare Reform Bill
We have been campaigning, as part of the Kinship Care Alliance, to improve measures in the Welfare Reform Bill which is currently being debated in the House of Lords. We believe that family and friends carers should not be hit by the benefit cap just because they have taken in extra children who may otherwise be in care. Over a third of carers lose their job when they take on the children, sometimes at the insistence of social workers, because of the children’s vulnerabilities and needs and the importance of settling in. We therefore think it is wrong for the Bill to be forcing carers to immediately seek work where the children are five or over.
Find out what you go do to support the Kinship Care Alliance’s work in getting the Bill improved.
New figures on kinship care - first time census data has been analysed
The University of Bristol and Buttle UK have produced a highly important new report on kinship care analysing the 2001 census data. It reveals that over 170000 children were living in kinship arrangements in 2001 and the numbers are increasing. This does not include those children living with friends. Nearly as many children in kinship arrangements are being raised by their older siblings as are being raised by grandparents. The report reveals very high levels of deprivation and poverty amongst kinship households and the lack of support they receive. It highlights our recommendation on the need for national financial allowance in family and friends care households who cannot live with their parents.
New Government guidance and standards
In March 2011, following considerable lobbying by us and the Kinship Care Alliance, the Government produced new family and friends care guidance for English local authorities.
The Government has also produced new Fostering Services National Minimum Standards including specific standards for family and friends carers.