1. Exploring the wider family, both domestic and abroad, as a first port of call to avoid children entering care:
- There should be a new legal duty on local authorities to ensure that potential placements with kinship carers are always explored and assessed for suitability before a child becomes looked after, unless there is an emergency. At present this duty only applies after the child is in the care system.
- There should be a legal duty on local authorities to offer all families the opportunity to have a family group conference(i) before a child enters the care system, unless there is an emergency. This will enable the wider family themselves to be supported to take the lead in making a safe plan for the child, for example by identifying suitable relatives willing to raise the child, thus averting the need for care proceedings or the child entering the care system.
2. Ensuring that local authorities and other public agencies recognise and meet the needs of children in kinship care in their area, the Government should take the following steps, and ensure that they are adequately funded:
- Regulate to require local authorities to publish a family and friends care policy and have a named designated senior council officer with responsibility for implementing the policy. Ofsted inspections of children's services departments should specifically ensure that this duty is complied with and Ofsted should conduct Joint Targeted Area Inspections of kinship care. The Local Government Association should also be encouraged to provide a kinship care peer review and a support network for local authorities.
- Give all children being raised by kinship carers for more than 28 days (where there is court, local authority or professional evidence that they cannot live with their parents), the same rights currently available to children who are adopted from care(ii) including:
i. Priority school admissions
ii. Pupil Premium Plus
iii. Free childcare for 2 year olds
iv. A designated member of school staff to promote their educational achievement
v. Access to the Adoption Support Fund.
- Introduce a national financial allowance for kinship carers who are raising children who would otherwise be in the care system.
- Place a new duty on local authorities to establish and commission kinship care support services, including assistance with managing contact and family relationships, counselling and therapeutic support, help with children's emotional and behavioural needs, life story work, and setting up local support groups for kinship carers.
- Place a new duty on local authority to assess the support needs of children in kinship care who the court, local authority or a professional has determined cannot live with their parents.
- Place a new power on local authorities to assess the need of any child living in kinship care for support services.
- Collect and publish robust, official data about kinship care arrangements to inform planning of local and national policies and support services for kinship care.
3. Ensuring specialist advice is available to family and friends who are considering, or have taken on a child, the Government should:
- Adequately fund free specialist independent legal advice and information services so that kinship carers and potential kinship carers know their rights and options from the outset and as circumstances change.
- Expand the scope of legal aid in the pre-proceedings stage, or where proceedings have been issued, to family and friends who are considering, or have taken on the care of a child where there is court, local authority or professional evidence that the child cannot live with their parents. This should be non-means tested, enabling kinship carers to have access to free, independent legal advice and representation.
- Adequately fund tailored advice and information services for kinship carers, including but not limited to benefits advice.
4. Supporting kinship carers to remain in the labour market, the Government should give:
- The right to a period of paid employment leave and protection to kinship carers, who are permanently raising children who the court, local authority or professionals have determined cannot live with their parents, as adopters are entitled to.
- Kinship carers a right to 6 weeks unpaid adjustment leave to deal with the immediate situation when a child initially moves in with them.
5. Helping prevent children in kinship care from ending up in severe poverty, the Government should recognise the specific circumstances of kinship carers within the benefits system, by ensuring:
- Kinship carer households are exempt from the benefit cap.
- The under occupation penalty (bedroom tax) does not apply to kinship carer and foster carer households so that children with disrupted lives are not required to share a bedroom with another child in the household.
- That no kinship carer, who has to move onto universal credit as a result of taking on the care of a kinship child, even as a temporary measure, is financially penalised.
- That no kinship carer household is financially penalised as a result of kinship carers of pension age transferring from child tax credit to pension credit.
For more information about the Agenda for Action, please contact:
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group
(i) A family group conference (FGC) is a voluntary process led by family members to plan and make decisions for a child who is at risk. Families, including extended family members and the child (subject to their age and understanding and usually supported by an advocate) are assisted by an independent FGC co-ordinator to prepare for the meeting. Key features of a successful family group conference include:
- Having an independent coordinator to facilitate the involvement of the child, family network and professionals in the family group conference process;
- Allowing the family private time at the family group conference to produce their plans for the child or young person; and
- Agreeing and resourcing the family’s plan unless it places the child at risk of significant harm.
(ii) and those who ceased to be in care as a result of a special guardianship order.