Supreme Court judgment on children who come into care under voluntary arrangements (section 20 Children Act 1989
Embargo: For immediate release 18/07/2018
Today the Supreme Court gave its judgment on Williams and another (Appellants) v London borough Hackney. The Charity Family Rights Group were interveners in the case, represented by a pro bono team led by Alex Verdan QC and Goodman Ray solicitors. Its intervention drew heavily on the findings from the Knowledge Inquiry that Family Rights Group had conducted, on behalf of the Your Family, Your Voice Alliance, into the use of Section 20 i.e. children coming into the care system under a voluntary arrangement.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group commented:
“The Supreme Court judgment follows years of discussions and court judgments about the use and misuse of section 20. Indeed, section 20 proved to be a significant topic for debate during the recent Care Crisis Review.
“There were a number of interveners in this Supreme Court case, all of whom were represented pro bono by expert legal teams. It is also testimony to the determination of the Williams family and their pro bono legal team that this timely case came before the Supreme Court.
“Section 20 is a family support provision, premised upon partnership working between families and the state, for the welfare of children. We welcome the principles set out by Lady Hale, on behalf of the Supreme Court in helping clarify the use of section 20.
“There was a very clear recommendation arising from the Your Family, Your Voice Alliance Knowledge Inquiry on section 20 and from the recent Care Crisis Review, that there should now be statutory practice guidance drawn up on the use of voluntary arrangements, to promote good practice. This is also the logical conclusion that can be drawn from the Supreme Court judgment, which frequently refers to expectations of good practice. This now needs to be actioned by Government.”
“The Care Crisis Review also recommended that parents should be eligible to receive free legal advice and representation, equivalent to that available under a pre-proceedings process, where it is proposed by the local authority that the child is looked after under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 or section 76 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014. Family Rights Group now calls upon the Ministry of Justice to put such measures into place.”
The Supreme Court judgment very helpfully sets out nine key principles of law in relation to the voluntary accommodation of children by the state under section 20. A summary of these are:
“Firstly, that the starting point must be parental responsibility…it encompasses all the rights of a parent. The most obvious and fundamental of these is the right to look after and bring up one’s own children…no local authority have the right or power to remove a child from a parent who is looking after the child and wants to go on doing so without a court order...
“Secondly, it may be confusing to talk of parent “consent” to the removal (or accommodation of her child). If a parent does agree to this, she is simply delegating the exercise of her parental responsibility for the time being to the local authority. Any such delegation must be real and voluntary...
“Thirdly, removing a child from the care of a parent is very different from stepping into the breach when a parent is not looking after her child…but…in such cases, as a matter of good practice, local authorities should give parents clear information about what they have done and what the parents’ rights are…Parents should also be informed of the local authority’s own responsibilities...
“Fourthly, parents may ask the local authority to accommodate a child, as part of the service they provide for children in need. If the circumstances fall within section 20(1), there is a duty to accommodate the child. If they fall within section 20(4), there is the power to do so. Once again, this operates as delegation of the exercise of parental responsibility for the time being...
“Fifthly,..the authority cannot accommodate a child if a parent with parental responsibility who is willing and able to accommodate the child herself or arrange for someone else to do so objects to the local authority doing so…If the local authority considers the proposed arrangement, not merely unsuitable, but likely to cause the child significant harm, they should apply for an emergency protection order.
“Sixthly,…a parent with parental responsibility may remove the child from accommodation provided or arranged by a local authority at any time. There is no need to give notice in writing, or otherwise. The only caveat…is the right of anyone to take necessary steps to protect a person, including a child, from being physically harmed by another...
“Seventhly, the right to object … and right to remove … are qualified…(if there are) court orders which have determined with whom a child is to live…(such as a special guardianship order). These order restrict that parents’ exercise of parental responsibility...
“Eighthly, section 20 makes special provision for children who have reached 16. In addition to the general duty…there is a duty...to provide accommodation for any child in need who has reached 16 and whose welfare will be seriously prejudiced if this is not done; and…to accommodate anyone who has reached 16 but is under 21 in a community home which caters for over 16-year-olds...once an accommodated child reaches 16, a parent has no right to object or to remove the child if she is willing to be accommodated by the local authority.
“Finally, there is nothing in section 20 to place a limit on the length of time for which a child may be accommodated. However, local authorities have a variety of duties towards the children whom they are accommodating. …Section 20 must not be used in a coercive way: if the state is to intervene compulsorily in family life, it must seek legal authority to do so. Thus although it is not a breach of section 20 to keep a child in accommodation for a long period without bringing care proceedings, it may well be a breach of other duties under the Act and Regulations or unreasonable in public law terms. In some cases there may be breaches of the child’s or the parents’ right under article 8 of the ECHR.”
Lady Hale concludes the judgment by stating:
“In sum, there are circumstances in which a real and voluntary delegation of the exercise of parental responsibility is required for a local authority to accommodate a child under section 20, albeit not in every case. Parents with parental responsibility always have a qualified right to object and an unqualified right to remove their children at will (subject to any court orders about where the child is to live). Section 20 gives local authorities no compulsory powers over parents or their children and must not be used in such a way as to give the impression that it does. It is obviously good practice in every case that parents should be given clear and accurate information, both orally and in writing, both as to their own rights and as to the responsibilities of the local authority, before a child is accommodated under section 20 or as soon as practicable thereafter.”
Family Rights Group works with parents whose children are in need, at risk or are in the care system and with wider family who are raising children unable to remain at home.
We advise parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends about their rights and options when social workers or courts make decisions about their children’s welfare.
We campaign for families to have their voice heard, be treated fairly and get help early to prevent problems escalating. We champion family group conferences and other policies and practices that keep children safe within their family and strengthen the positive family and community networks of children who cannot live with their parents.
For further information, contact:
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group
Tel: 020 7923 2628; Mob: 07931 570149
Review confirms there is a crisis in Children’s Social Care and Family Justice Sector and sets out 20 options for change
The Care Crisis Review has today published its report. It considers how to address the Care Crisis, and explores the factors which have contributed to the number of children in care reaching the highest level since the Children Act 1989 was enacted and care order applications reaching record levels in 2017. The Review has brought together a ‘coalition of the willing’ from across the child welfare and family justice sectors in England and Wales. It was a response to the President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir James Munby’s call to action in 2016: “We are facing a crisis and, truth be told, we have no very clear strategy for meeting the crisis. What is to be done?”
Funded by the Nuffield Foundation and facilitated by Family Rights Group, the Review comprised an inclusive listening exercise with over 2,000 people across England and Wales. This was complemented by a rapid academic review of evidence about the contributing factors to the crisis. It found:
- There is a sense of crisis felt by many young people, families and those working within the system.
- Professionals are frustrated at working in a sector that is overstretched and overwhelmed and in which, too often, children and families do not get the direct help they need early enough to prevent difficulties escalating.
- There was a palpable sense of unease about how lack of resources, poverty and deprivation are making it harder for families and the system to cope.
- Contributors expressed a strong sense of concern that a culture of blame, shame and fear has permeated the system, affecting those working in it as well as the children and families reliant upon it. It was suggested that this had led to an environment that is increasingly mistrusting and risk averse and prompts individuals to seek refuge in procedural responses.
Despite these concerns, the Review found that the child welfare legislative framework is basically sound and there are some local authorities that are bucking the national trend. The system works well sometimes: children and families described individual practitioners who had transformed their lives and professionals described innovations, approaches and leaders who enable them to practice in a way that is respectful, humane and rewarding. The Review also found common agreement about the way forward, with a consensus that relationship building has been and is at the heart of good practice.
Options for Change
The Review sets out 20 Options for Change, including:
- Immediate steps that could be taken to move away from an undue focus on processes and performance indicators, to one where practitioners are able to stay focused on securing the right outcomes for each child.
- Approaches, including family group conferences, in which families are supported to make safe plans for their child.
- Suggestions of ways in which statutory guidance, such as Working Together to Safeguard Children, can be changed in order to promote relationship-based practice.
- Opportunities for revitalising local and national family justice forums and other mechanisms, so that all can become places where challenges within the system are discussed and solutions developed.
- Proposals for the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education, in consultation with the devolved administrations, to examine the impact of benefit rules and policies, and the projected effect of planned benefit reforms, on the numbers of children entering or remaining in care.
- A call for the Ministry of Justice to undertake an impact assessment of the present lack of accessible, early, free, independent advice and information for parents and wider family members on the number of children subject to care proceedings or entering or remaining in the care system, and the net cost to the public purse.
- That the National Family Justice Board revises the approach to measuring timescales, including the 26 week timescale for care proceedings.
- That there are improvements in exploring and assessing potential carers from within the family, when a child cannot live at home, and better support is provided to such carers and children so they do not face severe financial hardship.
- That Ofsted and Social Care Wales in their inspections and research should take into account the duties on local authorities to support families and to promote children’s upbringing within their family.
£2 billion shortfall in children’s social care service
The Review also supports the ADCS and LGA’s call for Government to make up the £2 billion shortfall in children’s social care service. Money and resources matter for families and for services. It also highlights the need for an additional ring fenced fund which can act as a catalyst for local authorities and their partner agencies to achieve changes needed in their local context to address the crisis.
Nigel Richardson, Chair of the Review said:
“Dealing with the crisis is complex – inevitably so, because children and families live increasingly complex lives. But making the difference cannot be just about constant re-structures, or ever changing systems – the fundamental basis of our child welfare approach is encouragingly sound. The way forward has to be about working with complexity to offer hope. Offering an inclusive approach to family decision making so that families are helped to better understand the concerns about a child’s welfare and then helped to coordinate and propose a safe response to those concerns from within their own, usually extensive, family and friends network. It’s about moving away from an over reliance on the language of assessment and intervention and more towards understanding and helping. It’s about being less adversarial, risk averse and harsh and much more collaborative and kind.”
Tim Gardam, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Foundation said:
“Bringing people together from across the sector in this way has been invaluable in beginning to understand and address the ‘care crisis’. This type of coordinated response across England and Wales allows us to understand how the increase in care order applications differs from region to region, and the localised responses deployed to address it. The proposals outlined in the report are a result of a collaborative process and offer some initial changes that could be made to improve outcomes for children and their families.”
Participants in the Review included the Local Government Association, Ofsted, Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the All Wales Heads of Children’s Services, third sector organisations and alliances, the Offices of the English and Welsh Children’s Commissioners, members of the judiciary, lawyers, social care practitioners, young people and families.
Notes to Editors
The Review assumes that for some children, care is absolutely the right thing; offering them safety and security and the opportunity to flourish. This Review is not about avoiding care at all costs; it is about safely averting the need for some children to enter or remain in care.
The Review is publishing a suite of materials:
The Care Crisis Review: Options for change full report
The Care Crisis Review: Summary and list of options for change
The Care Crisis Review: Factors contributing to national increases in numbers of looked after children and applications for care orders
The Care Crisis Review: Care experienced young people and adults survey results
The Care Crisis Review: Family survey results
The Care Crisis Review: Professionals survey results
The Care Crisis Review: Children’s Principal Social Work Network survey finding
The Care Crisis Review: Analysis of focus group responses from care experienced young people.
The Review was supported by a Stakeholder Advisory Group, the members of which have, in different ways, power and influence to enact change. The review of the research evidence was supported by Academic Advisers. Information about the Stakeholder Advisory Group and Academic Advisers can be found here.
For further information please contact:
The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust that funds research and student programmes to advance social well-being in the UK. We want to improve people’s lives, and their ability to participate in society, by understanding the social and economic factors that affect their chances in life. The research we fund aims to improve the design and operation of social policy in Education, Welfare, and Justice. Our student programmes provide opportunities for students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to develop skills and confidence in quantitative and scientific methods. The Nuffield Foundation has funded this project, but the view expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.
www.nuffieldfoundation.org | @NuffieldFound
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s report Firm Foundations criticises local authorities for flouting the law at family and friends carers’ expense
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report issued today shows that some local authorities are flouting the law in the way that they treat family and friends carers, who have a special guardianship order for a child who cannot live with their parents. As the report states, these carers are grandparents, siblings, other relatives or friends “who take on the child, out of love, in the aftermath of a crisis”.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s report conducted 322 detailed investigations into complaints about special guardianship orders and wider fostering and child protection issues. They upheld seven out of every 10 complaints, significantly higher than their average rate in all their work of 57%.
They found that some local authorities had incorrectly calculated, changed and cut financial allowances for special guardians. In some cases, families were not given the right information or advice to make an informed decision about becoming a special guardian, with lasting consequences. In other cases, support that was promised was not forthcoming.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:
The Firm Foundations report reflects the experience of family members ringing our advice service. It also resonates with the survey, conducted by Family Rights Group and Grandparents Plus, which found that 93% of carers felt that they hadn’t been given enough information about finance when they took on care of the children and 41% of those receiving some form of regular local allowance said it had been reduced or been cut entirely as a result of a change in their local authority’s policy.
Special guardians are relatives and friends who have done the right thing by children who would otherwise be in the care system. Unlike adopters, these special guardians don’t get paid leave so many are forced to leave their jobs when the children come to live with them. They are then forced on to benefits. Too often local authorities then ride roughshod over their and the children’s needs, taking advantage of these carers’ good nature and lack of knowledge of the system.
“Action is needed now by central and local government. Councils are under severe financial pressures but that is not a justification for their failing to comply with the law.
Alongside all councils needing to comply with the Ombudsman’s report, central government also needs to step up to the mark by:
- Enabling special guardians to have a right to paid leave
- Exempting child tax credit, received by special guardians for the children they are raising, from the benefit cap.”
For further information, contact:
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group
Tel: 020 7923 2628; Mob: 07931 570149
Judicial victory for Kinship carers
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group and spokesperson for the Kinship Care Alliance.
“Today’s High Court judgment on kinship care and the two child tax credit limit is hugely welcome.
The Department for Work and Pensions had chosen to penalise some kinship carers including sibling carers, who were raising their younger brothers and sisters and subsequently had their own baby after April 2017. These kinship carers were prevented from claiming child tax credit for their own child, if there were already two or more children in the household. It was a pernicious and unjust approach that was criticised by ourselves, some MPs and peers. The High Court has rightly found it to be perverse and unlawful. It is just a shame the Government did not listen earlier and that Child Poverty Action Group have had to take the case to the High Court for justice to be done.
Kinship carers are raising children, many of whom cannot live safely with their parents and who would otherwise be in the care system at great public expense. Half of kinship carers have to give up work to take on children and most are forced into poverty. Some are then hit by the benefit cap and other welfare reforms. At least now, however, this injustice in relation to the two child tax credit limit is being fixed – that is a victory.
We are extremely grateful to Child Poverty Action Group, to Melanie Onn MP who championed this in Parliament and to kinship carers and others who campaigned on this issue”.
For more information about the judgment:http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/two-child-limit-challenge
For more information about kinship care and the 2 child tax credit limit:https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/01/kinship-carers-denied-thousands-of-pounds-over-two-child-cap
For more information about the financial hardship faced by kinship carers:https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/apr/08/kinship-carers-left-poor-and-homeless-by-welfare-reforms?CMP=share_btn_tw
A new survey of over 500 kinship carers – grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members and friends who’ve taken on care of children who aren’t able to live with their parents – has revealed that as many as 94% say caring has caused financial hardship, despite many stepping in to keep children out of the local authority care system. Read more about the survey findings in the Guardian's report - Kinship carers 'left poor and homeless by welfare changes'.
The survey, conducted by Family Rights Group and Grandparents Plus on behalf of the Kinship Care Alliance, found that 93% of carers felt that they hadn’t been given enough information about finance when they took on care of the children.
The survey also showed that:
- 41% of those receiving some form of regular local allowance said it had been reduced or been cut entirely as a result of a change in the local authority’s policy.
- Around half of kinship carers (46%) had given up work to take on the child(ren). Only 12% of the carers surveyed were in full time work.
- The support available to kinship carers varies wildly, even between children in the same family. A number of carers reported receiving financial support for one child but not others, often as a result of differing legal arrangements.
- Kinship carers can be penalised by changes to the benefits system, including the benefit cap and bedroom tax, and are regularly caught between systems. One carer said: “I was told by a social worker I had to move into a four bedroomed house, as the baby could not share with my children, but housing benefit states they can share, so it won’t pay for the fourth bedroom.”
- A few younger kinship carers have already been affected by the limiting of child tax credit to two children since April 2017, because although Government agreed to exempt carers taking in kinship children from the restriction, this does not currently apply to those who are already raising two kinship children and then have their own baby.
- As a result of financial hardship, many kinship carers have faced losing their homes, been forced to rely on foodbanks and got into debt. One carer said: “I have used all my savings to live off. Now they have gone I am struggling to even feed us. I got told to go to the food bank. I felt degraded.”
It’s estimated that there are around 200,000 children growing up in kinship care in the UK. Only foster carers are entitled to an allowance to cover the cost of raising a child, and research has shown a clear link between kinship care and deprivation.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:
“Relatives have often taken on the care of children to keep them safe, to give them security and because they know and love them. In some cases, they have been asked by the local authority to raise children, who would otherwise end up in the care system. Often the relatives have to make a decision at short notice.
“These kinship carers are doing all that could be asked of them by society and more. But instead of getting the support they and the children need, many kinship carers are left in poverty, isolated and having to battle to just make ends meet, whilst often also caring for traumatised children. The benefits system is getting harsher, with the benefit cap and sanctions causing some kinship care households to even lose their homes, just because they did right by the child.”
Dr Lucy Peake, Chief Executive of Grandparents Plus, said:
“The numbers are only part of the story this survey is telling us. Hundreds of carers have sent us their experiences of trying to provide stable homes for often traumatised children with no financial support, of complex and opaque systems that give them mixed and conflicting messages. What’s even more disheartening is how little things have changed. Our research has shown that kinship carers have consistently struggled to get the support they need, despite giving up everything to put the children who need them first. It’s unacceptable that these families are still given so little policy attention and rendered so invisible. Grandparents Plus is calling on the Government to take urgent action to prevent more families from being plunged into poverty, by ensuring all kinship carers have a financial allowance related to their financial circumstances and the needs of the child.”
The Kinship Care Alliance is calling for the Government to take the following measures to support kinship carers who are permanently raising a child who cannot live with their parents:
- Give kinship carers the right to a period of paid employment leave when the children settle in, similar to Adoption Leave. This would prevent many kinship carers from losing their jobs and being forced to rely on benefits.
- To not apply the benefit cap and bedroom tax to kinship carer households.
- Exempt all family and friends care households from the limiting of child tax credit to two children.
Family Rights Group has today launched the Your Family, Your Voice Alliance Knowledge Inquiry report on section 20 voluntary arrangement for children coming into the care system
Research undertaken as part of the Inquiry including a freedom of information request submitted to all English local authorities. It found that 163 children in care under a voluntary arrangement have been placed with foster carers who are already approved as suitable adopters since fostering for adoption legislation came into force three years ago. 111 of these are new born babies aged under 6 weeks old. In many cases the parents will not have had access to free legal advice and there will not have been any court scrutiny of the decision.
Press release from Family Rights Group on Department for Education Innovation Programme funding to trial Lifelong Links
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:
“The Government has recognised that the biggest issue for care leavers is one of isolation and loneliness; and the difficulty of navigating their way through their late t
eens and early twenties without a strong and stable social network to support them.
“We are thrilled that the Department for Education Innovation Programme has funded Family Rights Group to work with seven local authorities in England to conduct a three year trial of Lifelong Links, which is a new approach to creating life-long support networks for children and young people in care. The initial seven English local authorities to trial Lifelong Links will be Devon, Hertfordshire, Kent and North Yorkshire County Councils, the London Boroughs of Camden and Southwark and Coventry City Council. We are also separately raising funds with the intention that Lifelong Links will simultaneously be trialled in both Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland.
“The Lifelong Links trial will be aimed at under 16 year olds who have been in care for less than 2 years and for whom there is no plan for them to live within their family or be adopted. It will be independently evaluated to determine whether Lifelong Links is effective in improving outcomes for children in care.
“We have spent the last year developing the Lifelong Links operational model, which is a combination of two international child welfare approaches: family finding in the United States and family group conferences which originated in New Zealand. In designing the approach, we have worked with the local authorities, consulted with young people in care and care leavers, parents and foster carers and also learnt from the experience of Edinburgh City Council which has tested the approach on a small-scale.
“Lifelong Links involves professionals using a variety of innovative ways of searching for and connecting with family members and other adults who care about the child. This could include former teachers, neighbours or foster carers. This network is then convened through a family group conference to make a lasting support plan with, and for, the young person.
“Lifelong Links aims to ensure those social networks can be available for the child care, providing stability to their care experience and support through the transition into independent living and beyond.”
Victory: Extension of legal aid to all parents in court proceedings whose children may be adopted
Family Rights Group is delighted that Ministers at the Department for Education and Ministry of Justice have agreed to extend non-means and non-merits tested legal aid to all parents subject to court proceedings whose children may be adopted. The Charity in conjunction with the Your Family, Your Voice Alliance had drafted amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill to address the extreme injustice some parents face because they are legally unrepresented in proceedings for a Placement Order which could result in the adoption of their children.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:
“We are extremely grateful to peers in the House of Lords and to Emma Lewell-Buck MP for tabling amendments to the Children and Social Work Bill aimed at addressing the injustice that some parents could be legally unrepresented in court proceedings that could determine that their child was to be adopted.
We would like to thank Edward Timpson MP and officials for listening to us and taking such concerns seriously and negotiating with the Ministry of Justice for an extension of legal aid so that all parents can be legally represented in hearing which could result in the adoption of their child.
It is particularly apt that the Government’s decision was made this week. Today is the first anniversary of the death of Bridget Lindley, Family Rights Group’s Deputy Chief Executive and Principal Legal Adviser who consistently highlighted injustice faced by parents whose children had been removed. The funeral was also held this week of Peter Leevers, a social worker who in retirement had advocated for many parents in similar circumstances who could not afford private legal representation. We dedicate this legal amendment to both Bridget and Peter.”
For further information about the current situation prior to the extension to legal aid which will come into place later this year see page 6 of the briefing.
The Local Government Ombudsman has issued a report today which has found that a foster carer of a young vulnerable child was left without any support for six years as a result of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets wrongly failing to comply with its legal responsibilities.
New kinship care research shows potentially disastrous effects of tax credit and welfare reform effects of tax credit and welfare reform
- University of Bristol study and a Family Rights Group (FRG) research report, combine to reveal the most comprehensive evidence to date on kinship children and their carers in England, and the difficulties they face;
- The University of Bristol study found that the majority (76%) of children in kinship care live in a deprived household, with 40% living in households located in the 20% of the poorest areas in England; https://frg.org.uk/administrator/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&layout=edit&id=606#wf-editor-wysiwyg
- The FRG research found that almost half (49%) of kinship carers have had to give up work permanently to care for the kinchild, and a further 18% had to give up work temporarily;
- The FRG research also found that 22% of kinship care households had 3 or more children aged 18 or under. 63% of these households currently receive child tax credit. 34% of these households receive housing benefit.
The University of Bristol, has today revealed a comprehensive study on the extent of kinship care in England. Kinship care is when children, who are unable to live with their parents, are brought up by relatives such as grandparents or older siblings.
The study analysed microdata from the latest 2011 Census to map the number of children growing up in kinship care households. The study found that an estimated 152,910 (1.4%) of the 11.3 million children in England in 2011 were living in kinship care – a seven per cent growth from 2001.
The findings also shine a light on the difficulties facing many kinship carers and their children, with the majority being affected by poverty and deprivation. More than three quarters (76%) of kinship children live in deprived households and 40% live in households located in the 20% of the poorest areas in England.
To complement the University of Bristol’s new research, Family Rights Group, the leading national organisation on kinship care, today also released their own report, Do the Right Thing, which highlights difficulties facing both kinship children and their carers in the UK. The study is based on information drawn from 6,250 callers to Family Rights Group advice line for the 2014-15 financial year, and from the new – and largest ever in the UK – kinship carer survey.
The study reveals, that only 33% of kinship carers in the survey are in paid full-time or part-time work. Almost half (49%) of the survey respondents had to give up work permanently as a result of taking on the care of kinchildren, and a further 18% had to give up work temporarily. This situation is particularly harsh for single kinship carers, with 52% giving up work permanently.
Worryingly, the research also showed that the vast majority (80%) of kinship carers felt that when they took on the child, they did not know enough about the legal options and the consequences for getting support to make an informed decision.
The report also draws attention to some of the potentially dangerous unintended consequences of limiting child tax credits and capping benefits. Of those surveyed, 57% of kinship care households were receiving child tax credit and 30% housing benefit. The rate was higher amongst those who had three or more children aged 18 or under in their household. 22% of kinship care households had three or more children aged 18 or under, 63% of these households currently receive child tax credit. 34% of these larger households receive housing benefit.
The proposed limit to child tax credit to two children will have a potentially disastrous impact on tens of thousands of kinship carers and their children. On top of plunging new kinship carers into severe poverty, the proposed limit could significantly deter some potential kinship carers from coming forward.
Some kinship carers already have their own children living with them. The proposed reduction in the benefit cap will mean some are forced into severe debt and have to move home, away from their own children’s school and support network.
What Needs to Change?
- Kinship care is the first post of call for children unable to live with their parents – Government needs to introduce a new duty on local authorities to ensure potential kinship placements are explored & assessed for suitability before a child becomes looked after, including through the offer of a family group conference (except in any emergencies).
- Recognise and meet the needs of children in kinship care – Local authorities should recognise and meet the needs of children in kinship care by providing practical, emotional and financial support and Government needs to ensure there is funding to achieve this.
- Equal entitlement – Children in kinship care should have access to the same right to support as those who are adopted, including access to the Adoption Support Fund for therapeutic help.
- Access to information and advice – The Government should adequately fund free specialist independent legal advice and information services to kinship carers who are considering, or have taken on a child.
- Support to remain in work – Kinship carers should be supported to remain in the labour market, for example by the Government introducing a right to paid leave so they children can settle in (akin to adoption leave) and Government should exempt kinship carers from the two child limit on child tax credits and the benefit cap.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:
“The two studies released today, combine to provide authoritative new data on the challenges facing kinship children and their carers. The number of children living in kinship care are increasing, and these children are overwhelmingly affected by poverty.
“By safely keeping the vast majority of children living in kinship care out of the care system (95%), kinship carers are saving the tax payer billions of pounds each year in care costs. As previous research has shown, these children despite suffering similar adversities to those entering the care system, are doing significantly better academically, and have fewer emotional and behavioural problems. The proposed reforms to child tax credit limits and the benefit cap jeopardise this.
“The tax credit and welfare reforms are potentially disastrous for kinship carer households and will deter many potential kinship carers from coming forward, resulting in more children ending up in the care system, at significant cost to the public purse. We call on the Government to exempt kinship carers from these reforms, and to take action to ensure that kinship carers are not forced to give up work to raise the child.”
Notes to Editor
About kinship carers
Kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) is a relative, such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle or older sibling, or a friend who is raising a child who is unable to live with their parents. There are estimated to be around 200,000 children being raised by family and friends carers. They are also known as kinship carers.
About Family Rights Group
Family Rights Group is the Charity in England and Wales that advises families whose children are in need, at risk or in care and undertakes research and campaigns on behalf of kinship carers raising children who are unable to live with their parents. www.frg.org.uk
About the FRG studyAn on-line survey
An online survey of kinship carers in England and Wales was conducted in September 2015 by Family Rights Group.
It was completed by 579 kinship carers therefore making it the largest kinship carer survey in the UK. The survey provides an important snapshot of the experiences and circumstances of kinship carers and the children they are raising, helping overcome the significant paucity of data on children in kinship care and their carers.Callers to FRG’s advice service
Family Rights Group advised 6,250 families in England and Wales during the financial year 2014/15. Family Rights Group advice service is primarily used by parents, who made up 65% of categorised callers in 2014/15. 31% comprised wider family and friends, these are primarily kinship carers, including grandparents and older siblings who are raising children unable to live with their parent. Practitioners comprise the remaining 3% of those we advised.
About the University of Bristol study
Wijedasa, D. (2015). Characteristics of children living with relatives in England: Part 1. The prevalence and characteristics of children growing up with relatives in the UK, 1.
The briefing paper provides snapshots from the research study entitled ‘Kinship Care Re-visited: Using Census 2011 Microdata to Examine the Extent and Nature of Kinship Care in the UK’ funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
Nearly 1 in 5 local authorities failing at the first hurdle on family and friends care
New research released today by the Family Rights Group reveals significant failings among English local authorities in their support for family and friend carers:
- 26 (17%) of English local authorities, including 30% of London local authorities are failing to comply with the most basic requirement of statutory guidance issued in 2011, to have a published policy setting out their approach towards promoting and supporting the needs of children living with family and friends carers.
- Just 13% of policies indicated that the local authority has a dedicated worker or team to support family and friends carers.
- Three quarters of local authorities fail to use local demographic and needs data or consult with those partner agencies when drawing up their family and friends care policy and planning of services.
The study, entitled 'Could do better...Must do better' also revealed that a third of published policies on family and friends carers made no reference having a senior manager with responsibility for implementation. In 2014, Edward Timpson MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, wrote to all English local authorities with responsibilities for children and families services reminding them that they should have published a friends and family policy.
Family Rights Group is calling for a new legal duty on local authorities to publish a family and friends care policy, and to establish and commission family and friends care support services. Local authorities should also ensure that potential placements with family and friends carers are always explored and assessed before a child enters the care system.
Commenting, Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:
"There are more children who cannot live with their parents who are being raised by grandparents and other family and friends carers than there are adopted or in foster care. There carers make huge sacrifices for the vulnerable children they are raising, yet it is a postcode lottery as to what support or help they may get. It is essential therefore that they know what help might be available in their locality.
"Local authorities are dragging their feet. 17% have not even published a policy, despite statutory guidance requiring that they do so by September 2011. Even where policies and services do exist, they often bear no resemblance to the specific and distinct needs of the local population."
Recent polling commissioned by Family Rights Group also revealed overwhelming public support for greater rights and access to services for family and friends carers. 84% of the public believe that both children who are unable to live with their parents, and their carers, should have the same right to help and support as those who have been adopted.
Notes to Editors
About family and friends carers
A family and friends carer is a relative, such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle or older sibling, or a friend who is raising a child who is unable to live with their parents. There are estimated to be around 200,000 children being raised by family and friends carers. They are also known as kinship carers.
About the study
The Family Rights Group study, entitled 'Could do better...Must do better', explored whether local authorities are fulfilling their statutory requirements on family and friends carers. In 2011 the Government introduced statutory guidance requiring local authorities to publish a family and friends care policy, and for a senior manager in each authority to have overall responsibility for that policy.
The study follows previous research in 2012 following Freedom of Information requests issued by Family Rights Group which revealed that that at the time 45% of local authorities had not published a family and friends care policy and a significant number of policies did not adequately cover all of the requirements of the guidance.
Tristram Hunt, Shadow Secretary of State for Education announced that the Labour Party, if elected into Government, would introduce a series of measures aimed at improving the situation for children being raised by grandparents and other kinship carers, 15 February 2015,
In response, Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group commented " Kinship carers go to enormous lengths, often at considerable personal cost, to care for children who cannot live with their parents, and have often previously suffered considerable trauma or tragedy. They do what is right by these children, so should society. It is essential that they be given greater support, including children in kinship care being given the highest priority in the school admissions system. This is an important step forward."
Ms Ashley also met Tristram Hunt and Steve McCabe MP (Shadow Children's Minister) with some kinship carers and young people raised in kinship care to discuss their experiences and necessary reforms.
Article by Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive, Family Rights Group in Progress on-Line on helping families stay together, 10 February 2015
The article challenges the assumption that the primary role of the child welfare system is to change families.
What happens to siblings in the care system? Report by Cathy Ashley and David Roth, Family Rights Group, 26 January 2015
This report investigates the experience of siblings in the care system. It found that half (49.5%) of all sibling groups in local authority care are split up and that 37% of children in care who have at least one other sibling in care are living with none of their siblings. The research also found that although relatively few looked after children live with kinship foster carers, it appears to be particularly conducive to supporting siblings to be able to live together. The report sets out a series of recommendations to enable more siblings in care to live together, when it is in their welfare interests.
803% rise in domestic violence related calls over last 5 years – and victims have fewer options
Report in The Guardian by Patrick Butler based upon analysis of our advice service data which reveals an explosion in calls from families needing advice because their children are subject to child protection inquiries by social workers due to domestic abuse.
Charity blasts irresponsible advice from John Hemming MP to Panorama: ‘I Want My Baby Back’
John Hemming MP has allegedly said to BBC Panorama that he advises families, who can afford it, to flee England because they cannot expect a fair hearing when the Family Courts decide whether their children should be taken into care.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of the Charity Family Rights Group commented:
“This is crass, ignorant and potentially dangerous advice. It could seriously backfire on any parent who follows it. It could put a child at risk in serious danger.
“There is plenty of evidence that the most important factor in safeguarding a child who is deemed at risk, is an open working relationship between the family and social workers. Lack of co-operation is likely to result in the local authority seeking to apply for a care order. Parents need to understand their rights, have access to specialist expert advice and the ability to constructively challenge social workers. John Hemming’s encouragement of them to flee is the antithesis of helpful advice to parents in such circumstances.
“Last year one in every 100 children in England was subject to a child protection inquiry. The great majority of these children remain with their parents, but the experience is frightening, and deeply upsetting for families who are understandably scared that their children will be taken from them.
“There are measures in the Children and Families Bill, including the speeding up of care proceedings, reduced judicial scrutiny of care plans and the placing of children with potential adopters without going to court, which are in serious danger of resulting in significant breaches of children and families’ human rights. MPs do need to wake up to this – a more responsible approach would be for John Hemming to persuade his colleagues in the coalition to back amendments which address these concerns.”
Bridget Lindley, Family Rights Group's Deputy Chief Executive and Principal Legal Adviser awarded an OBE
Bridget commented "I am thrilled, especially as this is Family Rights Group's 40th anniversary year."
Cathy Ashley, the Charity's Chief Executive commented: "The honour is a tribute to Bridget's 25 years work for the Charity, giving legal advice to thousands of struggling families whose children are in need or at risk and campaigning for legal and policy changes to enable more children to live safely in their family network rather than end up in care." Bridget has also worked part-time for 15 years as a family mediator for Cambridge Family Mediation Service and is the parents' representative on the Family Justice Council.
Local Government Ombudsman Report slams local authorities for the way family and friends foster carers are treated
The Local Government Ombudsman has issued a landmark report today slamming the way in which local authorities often treat family and friends carers who are raising children who cannot live with their parents.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of the national charity Family Rights Group commented:
“The Local Government Ombudsman’s report shines a light on an area of child welfare which for too long has been neglected by Government and gets the Cinderella treatment by local authorities.
“We know from the thousands of calls that we deal with on our advice line, as well as research studies that we have undertaken that the injustices highlighted by the Local Government Ombudsman are common place.
“Action is needed now by central and local government. Councils are under financial pressures but there is no justification for their failing to comply with the law, and forcing some children in family and friends care into financial hardships without access to essential help, such as bereavement counselling.
“Central government also needs to step up to the mark. They have the opportunity in the Children and Families Bill to:
- Introduce a national financial allowance so children in family and friends care aren’t forced into the care system as the only means of getting the help they need;
- Introduce new duties on local authorities to provide support services for all children being raised in family and friends care who cannot live with their parents regardless of their legal status;
- Enable family and friends carers raising children outside the care system to have a right to paid leave when they take on the children, just as the Government is doing for adopters, so that they are not forced to give up their job and become reliant on benefits, when they take on the children.
For further information, contact:
Family Rights Group
020 7923 2628
Mob: 07931 570149
Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP challenges the Government to do the right thing and legislate so children raised by their older brothers or sisters get the recognition and help they need
Alan Johnson was 13 years old when his mother died and Linda, his 16 year old sister, took on his care. In Britain it is estimated there are over 45,000 siblings raising their younger brothers and sisters. In some cases this is as a result of parental death, or because of parental imprisonment, mental illness, drug and alcohol misuse or domestic violence – or a combination of these factors.
In a speech to a fundraising dinner on 20th November 2013 in aid of the Charity Family Rights Group, Alan Johnson will highlight that many young people are forced to give up work in order to take on the care of their vulnerable younger brothers and sisters. Despite the needs of these children, most are living in severe poverty and do not have a right to practical support, such as bereavement counselling. He challenges the Government to do the right thing for these extraordinary young carers who have done the right thing by their younger siblings. He also makes clear that if the right support was in place, more children could be raised by their siblings or wider family, as an alternative to being in the care system. He calls for legislative changes so that:
- Sibling carers have access to paid leave when they take on care of the children, similar to proposals that the Government is introducing for adopters;
- Local authority support duties that apply to children who are adopted, also apply to children raised by their older brothers and sisters;
- There is exemption from the bedroom tax and benefit cap for sibling carers, many of whom are raising more than one child;
- That children being raised by siblings get the same priority for a school place as a child who has been in the care system;
- Local authorities are required to identify and consider wider family members, including older siblings, as potential suitable carers, in order to avert a child entering the care system.
Alan Johnson has become the first patron of Family Rights Group. The Charity advises struggling families, whose children are in need or at risk, and campaigns on behalf of family and friends carers who are raising children who cannot live with their parents. It has published the only British research into the experiences of brothers and sisters raising their young siblings . Alan Johnson will set out in his speech that:
“Sibling carers and the children they are raising are largely invisible from public discussion or the eye of politicians. How often have you heard debates in Parliament about brothers and sisters and the children they are raising? Compare that to the Government’s heavy focus and numerous initiatives on adoption over the last couple of years. Of course adoption is the right answer for some children who cannot live with their parents, but certainly not for all. I know how important it was when my mother died, for my sister and I to stay together. I owe my sister so much, she fought tooth and nail to be allowed to look after me.
“Today only around 5% of the 45,000 children, who are being brought up by their older brothers and sisters, are entitled to support because they are officially in care and their sibling carers are paid as foster carers. For the remaining 95% it is a matter of chance whether they and their carers get any help from their local authority. The truth is that this is an issue which has been overlooked for decades, by governments of all political complexions. But it’s more pressing now as numbers of children in the care system have risen. Sadly, Family Rights Group’s research showed that sibling carers are often at the bottom of the pile when it comes to being able to access help, particularly with housing.
“Sibling care can be extraordinarily successful. There is plenty of evidence that children raised by their relatives do better than those in unrelated care, despite having suffered similar earlier tragedies and trauma. I know that from my own life. My sister Linda did so much for me. Without her we would have been separated and placed in care and our futures would have turned out very differently. Nevertheless without access to the right help we are inflicting wholly unnecessary damage on some of these children’s chances of a successful upbringing.
“Moreover, frequently the price for the children’s wellbeing is paid by their older siblings, who are forced to give up their own chances of a degree or a job to take on the care of their younger brothers or sisters. Many are living in severe financial hardship and the situation is getting significantly worse as a result of local authority cuts and welfare reforms, with some hit by the benefit cap because they have taken on more than one child.
“The Secretary of State for Education has recently given a speech in which he drew upon his own background to slam social workers for recognising the social inequalities and injustices that some families face. Well I know what poverty was like, and I remember the impact on my mother’s health and on my childhood. And I would never wish that on any family.
“Of course as individuals we do all do have responsibility for our own actions and I will not excuse or justify wrongdoing. But it is ironic that a Secretary of State who tells others that they must take responsibility for their actions, fails to acknowledge the responsibility that politicians and wider society have in promoting the conditions in which children and their families are more likely to flourish.
“Sibling carers are extraordinary people. They have gone beyond what it is reasonable to expect of any young person. They are saving the state a fortune in care costs avoided. They have often had to sacrifice their own relationships, dreams and careers. There are simple steps that the Government could take that would transform this situation.
“I look forward to working with Family Rights Group to raise awareness and get recognition and support for these extraordinary young people and the children they are raising.”
Note 1: Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP was raised by his sister Linda in Battersea after his mother died when he was only 13. He served as Home Secretary from June 2009 to May 2010. Before that, he filled a wide variety of cabinet positions including Health Secretary and Education Secretary.
Note 2: Family Rights Group runs an advice Line tel for families whose children are in need, at risk or in care. Tel 0808 801 0366 and open Monday-Friday 9.30am-3:00pm.
Engaging families early: time for a national protocol?’ Article by Bridget Lindley, Deputy Chief Executive and Principal Legal Adviser, Family Rights Group in November Family Law © Jordan Publishing Ltd, London (2013)
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, Head of the Family Justice System, in his recent view piece (October 2013) referring to this "important article" stated Bridget and "FRG are to be thanked for raising this important issue. Their proposals and ideas merit the most careful attention."
Response from Family Rights Group into the Local Government Ombudsman’s finding into complaint no 12 006 209 into Liverpool City Council
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.
“This investigation shows that Liverpool City Council inexcusably ignored a number of legal rulings as well as government guidance. Alongside failing to treat this child as looked after, it also flouted court judgements and was already paying many its foster carers less than the minimum set by government. Liverpool however, does deserve credit for quickly accepting that it was at fault and taking remedial action.
“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.”
Children and Families Bill is ‘unworkable’ say The College of Social Work and Family Rights Group
The College of Social Work (TCSW) and Family Rights Group (FRG) have today (Tuesday May 14) jointly launched a report calling for the Government to reconsider provisions in the Children and Families Bill.
Both organisations believe that the current Bill could bring about a damaging shift in the State’s relationship with families and potentially cause poor decisions about the placement of children in the care system.
The joint parliamentary briefing by TCSW and the FRG sets out their concerns about clauses in the Bill that if passed unamended:
- Will introduce a ‘foster for adoption’ system that will undermine the important role that extended family members can play in raising children in care safely and securely (clause 1).
- Will establish an unwieldy target of 26 weeks for the completion of care proceedings (clause 14) which will risk the wrong decisions being taken for some children.
TCSW and FRG agree that, as it is currently drafted, clause 1 of the Bill is "unworkable" and are calling for a duty to be placed on local authorities for "family placements to be explored before a fostering for adoption placement is made". Moreover, if there is a suitable and willing member of the family, such as a grandparent, wishing to raise a child in care, this should continue to be prioritised over placing the child for adoption.
Such family placements offer the same stability and continuity for a child as placing them quickly with a potential adopter. They promote positive outcomes for children into adulthood, children state they feel happy and secure (98% of children raised by family and friends carers reported feeling well settled and believed that their living arrangement was permanent) and in addition they can also reinforce key aspects of a child’s identity.
The report says: "It is critical the current reforms support relatives and friends to come forward at an early stage so that they can be assessed as potential carers. The current foster for adopt proposals could squeeze out such family placements."
The report also raises serious concerns about the provision in the Bill to restrict care proceedings to 26 weeks (clause 14), stating: "There is a genuine risk that the proposed 26 weeks could result in too much focus on procedure and not enough on the welfare of the child."
Citing good reasons why care proceedings could take longer than 26 weeks, such as identifying suitable relatives to look after children and sustaining family support work that is achieving positive results, we are concerned that "clause 14 could trump professional judgement and work against the best interests of the child."
TCSW and the FRG are calling for an amendment to make it easier for professionals to recommend an extension to the 26 week time limit, where in their judgement it is needed to assure a child’s welfare.
"TCSW and the Family Rights Group urge Parliament to pause and reflect on the wisdom of including the 26 weeks target in primary legislation, potentially jeopardising children’s welfare, against the advice of many professionals in the field."
Notes to editors:
The College of Social Work is the centre of excellence for social work, upholding and strengthening professional standards to the benefit of the public. We are an independent membership organisation that aims to provide a strong, unified voice for social workers and play a leading role in the development of social policy.
The College of Social Work was established following the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force. It is in its first year of operations as a legal entity.
A survey of TCSW members last year revealed that 90 per cent of respondents believed that the Government had a duty to emphasise other forms of permanence alongside adoption.
TCSW and FRG concur with the Munro Review on the importance of reasserting the principle that wherever possible children should be raised by their family and that the family is the primary environment for a child’s healthy, loving and safe upbringing.
The Family Rights Group is the charity in England and Wales that advises families whose children are involved with, or require, local authority services because of welfare needs or concerns. We promote policies and practices that help children to be raised safely and thrive within their family and community and give families a voice when decisions are made about their children’s lives. And we campaign for effective support to help struggling parents and family and friends carers, who are raising children who cannot live at home.
The Charity was one of eight organisations that formed The Care Inquiry, which recently produced a report entitled ‘Making not breaking: building relationships for our most vulnerable children’. The report’s findings conclude that Government needs to rethink care and calls for decisions and support to be based on need and not legal status.
The Charity is a leading member of the Kinship Care Alliance which works with other charities, local authorities and academics to prevent children from being unnecessarily raised outside the family; enhance outcomes for children who cannot live with their parents and who are living with relatives and secure improved recognition and support for family and friends carers. Family Rights Group have produced detailed briefings on the Children and Families Bill.
'Family and friends carers should not be expected to cope unaided' - Article in the guardian about our joint new research with Oxford University entitled It's Just Not Fair!
Government policy is that support for children and carers must be based on need, not just legal status. But this isn't happening
New research, by Family Rights Group and Oxford University entitled It's Just Not Fair!, challenges central and local government to do more to support the many thousands of children being brought up by family and friends carers, most commonly grandparents and older siblings.
About 6% of these children are in the "care system". In these circumstances, the relative becomes a family and friends foster carer and both child and carer are legally entitled to support, both financial and practical, such as priority admissions when moving school or assistance with managing contact with parents.
Local authority support for the remaining 94% is entirely discretionary. Yet most of these children will have been exposed to multiple adversities – abuse, neglect, parental substance abuse or mental illness, domestic violence – while in parental care. As a group, they are virtually indistinguishable from those in unrelated foster care and their carers face similar challenges.
In 2011, the government issued statutory guidance requiring every English local authority to publish a family and friends care policy. Crucially, this stated that policies should be underpinned by the twin principles that children and carers should receive the support they need and that support should be based on need, not simply legal status.
Our research shows, however, that there is a long way to go before these principles become a reality. Local authorities are failing many children and carers. Support bears little relationship to the extent of need but is primarily determined by whether the child happens to be in the care system or not.
Almost three quarters of carers rated support from children's services as poor or very poor and 95% identified specific unmet needs for practical, financial or emotional support. Similarly, less than a third of children's services staff said their authority was completely achieving the requirement to meet the support needs of children and carers. Only 20% said that support was provided irrespective of legal status.
The data from professionals taking part in the research, including social workers, lawyers and judges, demonstrates that family and friends foster care has become an increasingly reliable passport to a comprehensive range of services. It is a passport, however, which is reluctantly issued, bears little relation to need and usually has a limited life, with local authorities seeking to move families on quickly to special guardianship or residence orders.
Special guardianship is the next best option but very much a second best since support is discretionary, unpredictable and varies significantly between local authorities. Carers with no legal order are least well supported.
We are at a pivotal point in the development of services for a vulnerable group of children and carers. The statutory guidance was a significant step forward. Implementation across the country, however, has been very patchy. Around 35% of English local authorities have not even published a policy, 18 months after the deadline. Clearly government needs to take action if the guidance is not to become merely aspirational.
Local authorities, however, were given no additional money to implement the guidance, and given the current financial constraints it might be inevitable that limited resources will be focused on statutory responsibilities. Hence government needs to put in place a statutory framework for all children in family and friends arrangements who cannot live with a parent. This should be modelled on the support available to adoptive parents, which the government is strengthening.
Central government also needs to demonstrate its commitment to these families, and relieve the burden on local authorities, by instituting a national financial allowance to such carers. To those who argue that surely families have a responsibility to look after their own, we would counter that family and friends carers are doing just that and making considerable sacrifices to do so. However, they should not be expected to cope unaided. Both local and central government need to play their part and to do so more effectively.
Joan Hunt is a senior research fellow at the department of social policy and intervention, University of Oxford.
Family Rights Group Chief Executive, Cathy Ashley's article in the Huffington Post on UK Adoption Reform: The Dangers of Repeating Australia's Shame
In Australia last week, the prime minister Julie Gillard delivered an historic and exceptionally moving national apology to thousands of unwed mothers who were forced by government policies to give up their babies for adoption over several decades.
She acknowledged that the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies, had denied mothers their fundamental right to love and care for their children, affected fathers and hurt siblings and their wider families.
She talked eloquently of the importance of a child's right to know and be cared for by its parents. She spoke of adoptees' struggle with their "identity, uncertainty and loss" and feelings of a "persistent tension between loyalty to one family and yearning for another".
Meanwhile the UK government is pushing ahead full steam with Clause 1 of the Children and Families Bill. If implemented it could result in some children being placed with potential adopters despite there having been no court proceedings, no court decision that the child should be permanently removed from their parents and no legal advice given to the parents.
Clause 1 of the bill requires that English local authorities, as soon as they consider adoption as even one of the possible options for a child they are looking after, must consider placing the child with people who may go on to adopt them. Even if there are suitable wider family members, such as a grandparent willing to care for their grandchild, social workers will no longer have to prioritise placing the child (or keeping the child) with their grandparents. Instead. they can put the child's name on the national adoption register to find suitable adopters and place the child with potential adoptive parents (who are temporarily approved as foster carers) anywhere in the country.
The government has given no coherent explanation for denying a child the right to live safely with relatives, who could provide the same continuity of care that foster for adoption aims to achieve. No rationale for squeezing out potential family carers when there are already 4,600 children waiting to be adopted.
Politicians, the public and those of us in child welfare are united that children who cannot live with their families need the opportunity to be raised in a permanent, loving environment without unnecessary delays. But the error the government is making is to address one challenge by creating other dreadful injustices and hurt.
There is plenty of evidence that with the right support many parents do make it within their children's timescales. Closures of domestic violence refuges, for example, or benefit cuts that force families into homeless, which Family Rights Group is observing from calls to our advice service, has the opposite impact. As has the government's decision to take £150m from the early intervention grant and give it to local authorities to spend on adoption reform.
In Australia mothers were betrayed by a system, in which they were deprived of care and support. As Julia Gillard told these mothers, you were "denied of knowledge of your rights so you could not give informed consent". Indeed in some cases supposed consent was given when the mother was still heavily medicated from the birth. Yet that's exactly what could happen under Clause 1. Some of those mothers and fathers who will be affected are young, some are care leavers, many have learning difficulties. Family Rights Group is attempting to address this issue of informed consent by pushing amendments to the bill so that a child could only be placed with a potential adopter if there has been a court decision or the parents have consented following legal advice and their consent has been independently witnessed.
It is important to remember that the Australian Senate Committee found that forced adoption by married couples, was perceived at the time to be in the children's best interests. It's an easy trap to fall into, to justify any extension of state power in family lives. But we must not fall into this same trap.
Julia Gillard pointed out that the history of forced adoption in Australia has "created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering". Let's not repeat their errors.
Family Rights Group Chief Executive, Cathy Ashley's response in the Guardian on the new Children and Families Bill 2013
The children and families bill is the most far-reaching child welfare legislation to be considered by parliament for decades. Adoption is the permanent removal of a child from their birth family. When enforced against the parents' will, it is one of the most severe acts that the state can take.
That's why forced adoption is not permitted in most of Europe. The current legal framework in England and Wales ensures that placing a child for adoption should only be pursued if options for the child to live with their parents or wider family have first been properly explored, and it should always be subject to fair process and judicial scrutiny.
Clause 1 of the bill rides roughshod over these fundamental safeguards. It states that local authorities must consider placing a child with prospective adopters (who are temporarily approved as foster carers) as soon as adoption is even considered for the child by social workers. They will be able to put the child's name on the national adoption register to find a suitable an adopter and place the child out of their local area. At this point there may have been no court proceedings nor judicial decision that the child should be permanently removed from its parents.
Martin Narey, the government's adoption adviser, claims the provisions would not affect the local authority's duties to prioritise placing a looked-after child with a suitable parent or wider family member over a prospective adopter and that he "would not have urged the reform on ministers were it to do so".
I truly wish that were so. Unfortunately, Clause 1 explicitly exempts local authorities from these duties once adoption is even considered.
Clause 1 will mean that a vulnerable young mother in a domestically abusive relationship, who agrees to her baby temporarily being placed into care, could then find the social workers placing him or her with potential adopters, without her realising the significance of this step. Because the child went into care with her agreement, she will not have had legal advice or representation.
Once the baby is living with the potential adopters, social workers won't have to help the mum with a refuge place nor will they have to explore options within the child's wider family. By the time care and adoption proceedings are started and mum gets legal advice, and grandmother comes forward, it will be too late. The court might decide the local authority should have supported the family, but the baby will have settled for too long with the adopters to move him now.
I'm in no doubt that children, especially little ones who cannot live with their parents, need to be settled into a loving, permanent home with minimal disruption. But Clause 1 won't achieve that objective, not least because there aren't sufficient adopters: there are already 4,600 children on the adoption waiting list and numbers are growing. Care proceedings are at record levels. We have a chronic shortage of foster carers especially for sibling groups, with 63% of siblings in care separated from each other.
Instead of burying our heads in the sand, we need to invest in helping give struggling parents the chance to prove their worth, and we need to support, rather than squeeze out, those relatives who could offer children stability, love, security and continuity.
Leading charities launch the Care Inquiry
EIGHT LEADING charities have joined forces to launch an inquiry into how best to provide stable and permanent homes for children in England who cannot live with their birth families.
The Care Inquiry is a collaboration of specialist charities representing all care options for these children. Adoption UK, British Association of Adoption & Fostering (BAAF), Family Rights Group, The Fostering Network, Research in Practice, TACT, The Together Trust and The Who Cares? Trust are bringing together their expertise and knowledge – and that of others within the sector – to explore how society can best provide homes for our most vulnerable children.
Every year over 90,000 children are involved in the care system across England. Many of these children will return home or live with a member of their wider family. But those who cannot are fostered, adopted or live in a children’s home.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, the chief executives of the Care Inquiry charities said: “The emphasis must be on finding homes that meet a child's needs and on avoiding unnecessary delays. Different options – foster care, adoption, special guardianship, being cared for by family or friends or in children’s homes – will be right for different children. They all have the potential to meet a child's needs and provide them with a stable and secure environment during childhood and beyond.
“The care system must work to improve the lives of all children who come into contact with it. The crucial thing – for each and every child – is to find a home which provides them with stability, helps them develop a strong sense of identity and gives them a feeling of belonging.”
The Care Inquiry will consist of three evidence collating sessions in November, December and January, with a final report due out by spring 2013.
The aim of the Inquiry, which is supported by the Nuffield Foundation, is to collect and explore the evidence on what actually works for children, in order to make recommendations to central and local government about how to succeed in helping them achieve long-term stability and security.
For more information visit www.pinterest.com/thecareinquiry. Follow the Inquiry’s progress on Twitter @thecareinquiry.
Family Rights Group has published its proposed response to the Government’s revised statutory safeguarding guidance
The response expresses serious concern that if the guidance is published without amendment, it could result in vulnerable children being at greater risk of harm.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group states:
“We are particularly concerned by:
-The loss of focus on children in need and family support, the removal of minimum standards on how assessments will be conducted and the removal of nationally applicable timescales.
-The failure to mention the importance of the family and the local authority working in partnership when children are in need and at risk of harm. It is well established that partnership working is key to children at risk of harm being kept safe,  which is not surprising given that 93% of children on a child protection plan live with their families.  It is therefore the parents who are responsible for implementing the child protection plan on a daily basis. Family engagement is key to safeguarding, however challenging that may be for social work practice. Yet this consultation document makes no mention of the importance of working in an open partnership with families. This is a major omission which could result in more children being unsafe if it is not rectified.”
Commenting on Mr Justice Ryder's proposal for the modernisation of family justice, Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group says:
"There is the danger that the unintended consequence of the Government’s proposal to limit care cases to six months will be that children are less likely to be placed with their wider family.
"We are therefore pleased that Mr Justice Ryder has identified that local authorities should explore the potential for a child to return home and the feasibility of children living with their wider family prior to the start of care proceedings. We very much welcome his statement that this is “much more likely to occur where family group conferencing or similar early engagement with family have occurred to identify alternative placements for the child."Â Family group conferences have the advantage of identifying early on all those who may be important in the child’s life, including paternal relatives, and allow contingency planning so that relatives can put themselves forward and be assessed as potential carers should a child not be able to live with their parents. Unfortunately, at the moment only a small minority of families are offered a family group conference prior to proceedings and three in 10 local authorities in England and Wales have no family group conference service at all.
"Mr Justice Ryder’s report however, does not address the increase in relatives who, due to the legal aid reforms, will have to represent themselves in court in order to secure a residence or special guardianship order that could provide a child at risk with a safe, permanent home. It is urgent that the courts are geared up to addressing this.
"We are therefore keen to discuss with Mr Justice Ryder how the Family Court Guide that he is developing will best address family and friends care."
Family Rights Group Chief Executive, Cathy Ashley's response to the new General Medical Council (GMC) guidance on child protection:
"The GMC has involved Family Rights Group in the drafting of this guidance and it is right that doctors must act on their concerns about the safety and welfare of a child. However, in doing so it is critical that all doctors read and apply the full guidance, which highlights the importance of being trained and clear about the law and their responsibilities and respecting patient confidentiality. It is also vital they work openly and honestly with parents throughout any referral process, look out for signs that the family needs extra support and that they direct parents to appropriate independent advice.
"We know from our work that doctors are key in preventing children from ending up at risk of harm, by providing direct support and listening to families alongside necessary investment in effective health services. Callers to our advice helpline often talk of problems escalating into child protection issues because they did not get the support they needed at an early stage when parenting a child with severe undiagnosed emotional and behavioural needs; or to address their own depression or fears as a victim of domestic abuse, for example. To have the most impact doctors need to work openly with families throughout the process not just at the point of referral and importantly direct parents to independent support.
"Independent advisers, including Family Rights Group, help parents to understand their options, rights and what they need to do to keep their child safe. Often families who are subject of child protection enquiries can feel alienated, alone, angry and fear that their child might be removed, which can add significantly to the stresses in the family home. In fact 93% of children who are subject to a child protection plan live at home, so the families’ contribution, understanding and participation in a child protection plan is a key factor in whether or not it works. Moreover, lack of co-operation between families and health and social work professions is a critical factor as to why cases end up in care proceedings and children are removed.
"We hope that this guidance will encourage open and honest working between GPs and families so that parents are given the support they need and children are able to live safely within their family."
In response to the government’s plan to simplify and speed up the adoption process announced today by the Prime Minister, Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group said:
“Children who cannot live with their families should be placed with alternative permanent carers as quickly as possible. We support Ministers’ aims to minimise disruption in fostering and adoption of children, not least so as to maximise their chances of being able to form healthy attachments later in life.
“However, we have significant concerns, in particular that placement of children with the wider family is not overlooked in the drive to speed up the adoption process. As the Children’s Minister Tim Loughton MP has rightly said, adoption is only ever going to be the right option for a minority of children.
One option that has been shown can work is concurrent planning for babies . It enables babies to live with foster carers who work closely with parents with the goal of returning the child to their birth parents if safe, but who then become adopters for the child if they cannot return home. The approach can’t be rolled out speedily and on the cheap. It requires specialist support and investment and it isn’t suitable for all potential adopters.
“We need to be confident that reforms to our child welfare system, fully explore and support the child living safely with their parents or wider family at the outset, and that the drive for speeding up decision making is not at the expense of the right placement for the child.”
The Kinship Care Alliance responds to the change to welfare benefits for kinship carers who look after children unable to live with their parents:
“The Kinship Care Alliance warmly welcomes the announcement by Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, of a year’s exemption from conditionality under Universal Credit for grandparents, older siblings, aunts and uncles and other relatives and friends (kinship) carers who are taking on the responsibility for bringing up children who are unable to live with their parents.
“This is a measure that the Kinship Care Alliance strongly campaigned for when the Welfare Reform Act was going though Parliament, with the help of family and friends carers, MPs and Peers across political parties. We would like to thank everyone who has participated in our campaign.
“Family and friends carers provide children, who would otherwise be in the care system, with a secure and loving family, at considerable savings to the public purse. Research shows that 38% of carers have to give up work when children move in, and many are forced into poverty as a result. This concession will mean that for a year at least carers, rather than face a benefits penalty for not actively seeking work, will be able to spend their time prioritising the settling in of vulnerable children who may have suffered trauma or abuse and who may have moved school as well as home. It will provide a degree of reassurance that we hope will encourage family members to continue to step forward when children can no longer live with birth parents
“We also welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement of the major sacrifices family and friends carers make in helping children in difficult situations to remain in a family environment.
Local fun day for family and friends carers in London Borough of Lambeth on 7th July 2012
The charity Family Rights Group is encouraging family and friends carers from across Lambeth to join its first Family and Friends Carers Fun Day in Brockwell Park in Brixton between 2-6pm on Saturday 7 July 2012.
Family and friends carers are grandparents, older siblings and relatives or friends, who are raising a child in their family or friendship network.
The free day out will be a chance for family and friends carers (also known as kinship carers) and the children they are raising to meet others in the same situation and enjoy an afternoon of activities.
Families are invited to bring a picnic and meet in front of the children’s playground. The park is suitable for children of all ages with play equipment and a wet play area. There will be organised games and face painting. All activities in the park will be free of charge or covered by the Family Rights Group. There will also be a free cup of tea and ice-cream for everyone who attends. There will be a specialist advice surgery with a Family Rights Group adviser for any carers who need advice or support. The event is supported by Lambeth Council and everyone is welcome!
Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, Cathy Ashley says:
“In Lambeth one in every 30 children is being brought up by a family member because they are unable to live with their parents – the area has the third highest rate of children living in such circumstances in the UK. This may be because of parental illness or death, drug or alcohol addiction, imprisonment or disability.
“We know that these carers do an amazing job but that it can be lonely and stressful at times and difficult to meet other people in the same situation. Often the children also feel they are the only ones being raised in such circumstances. Our organisation provides support and help for family and friends carers and we would love everyone to join us at our fun afternoon.”
London has significantly higher rates of children living in family care than the rest of the UK; with with almost 18,000 children in inner London cared for by a family member, according to 2001 census data. Research by Family Rights Group shows these children do as well, if not better than, other children in the care system, but often get significantly less support.
Local fun day for family and friends carers in London Borough of Wandsworth on 30th June 2012
The charity Family Rights Group is encouraging family and friends carers living in the London Borough of Wandsworth to join its first Family and Friends Carers Fun Day in Battersea Park between 12 noon and 4pm on Saturday 30 June 2012.
Family and friends carers are grandparents, older siblings and other relatives or friends, who are raising a child in their family or friendship network.
The free day out will be a chance for family and friends carers (also known as kinship carers) and the children they are raising to meet others in the same situation and enjoy an afternoon of activities. Families are invited to bring a picnic and meet near the children’s zoo, which will be free to enter. Everyone is welcome!
Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, Cathy Ashley says:
“There are many family members caring for children who cannot live with their parents, right across Wandsworth.
“We know that they do an amazing job but that it can be lonely and stressful at times and difficult to meet other people in the same situation. Often the children also feel they are the only ones being raised in such circumstances. Our organisation provides support and help for family and friends carers and we would love everyone to join us at our fun afternoon.”
In Wandsworth one in every 50 children is being brought up by a family member because they are unable to live with their parents. This may be because of parental illness or death, drug or alcohol addiction, imprisonment or disability.
London has significantly higher rates of children living in family care than the rest of the UK; with almost 18,000 children in inner London cared for by a family member, according to 2001 census data. Research by Family Rights Group shows these children do as well, if not better, than other children in the care system but most get significantly less help.
Cathy Ashley, Family Rights Group Chief Executive, responds to the launch of a new select committee investigation into the adoption process in England and Wales
“We welcome politicians’ interest in how to improve the lives of children who are unable to live with their parents. However, it is extremely disappointing that the House of Lords select committee has chosen to focus exclusively on adoption, which will not be an option for the vast majority of children in the care system.
“There are over 65,000 children in the care system in England (on 31 March 2011) and over 200,000 children being brought up by friends and family members. In March 2011 only 3,050 children were adopted.
“It is a real missed opportunity not to examine how to give every child long-term stability and the support they need, be that through adoption, fostering or family and friends care, or returning home with the right help.”
Family Rights Group Chief Executive, Cathy Ashley’s response to the regional care application figures released by Cafcass today
Ms Ashley says:
“The removal of a child from their parents, is one of the most draconian steps the state can take. We know the care system is struggling to cope with record numbers, causing more children to be subject to multiple temporary moves and being split from their siblings.
“In some cases taking a child into care is the right action, reflecting the severity of abuse the child is at risk of suffering. But we know from research and the increasing number of calls to our advice service, that often families have been crying out for help before situations escalate, and that cuts to key early intervention and preventative services, such as refuge places for abused mothers, are putting more children at risk. Moreover, thresholds for intervention vary significantly between authorities and can reflect a culture of fear of blame and insecurity in some localities, since the death of Baby Peter Connelly.
“In many areas of the country, not enough is being done early on (through a family group conference, for example) to identify and assist wider family members such as older siblings and grandparents to take on the raising of children unable to live with their parents. More than 40 per cent of English local authorities still do not have a family and friends care policy, over seven months after the Government’s deadline. Support for such carers and children is a postcode lottery, with ironically less help the earlier the family member steps in.
“Our recent survey of family and friends carers found 20 per cent of the children have been in unrelated care before living with their kinship carer - in numerous cases this could have been avoided - which is in the interests of both the children and public purse.
Cathy Ashley, Family Rights Group chief executive’s response to rise in care applications
Ms Ashley said: "The care system is really struggling to cope with the rising numbers of care order applications. There are court delays, children being put in temporary placements or moved around with little notice, siblings are being split up and there are a significant shortage of foster carers.
“Family Rights Group knows from the rising calls to our advice service and recent research that in some of these cases more could and should be done to have kept children safely with their family. The closure of key early intervention and preventative services, such as refuge places for abused mothers, is worsening this terrible situation.
“Not enough is being done early on (eg through a family group conference) to identify and assist wider family members such as older siblings and grandparents to take on the raising of children unable to live with their parents, which is shocking.
“Our recent survey of family and friends carers found 20% of the children have been in unrelated care before living with their kinship carer - in numerous cases this could have been avoided - which would be in the interests of both the children and public purse."
Local authorities leave family and friends carers to fend for themselves
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 from advice charity Family Rights Group.
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, 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
• Seventy-six per cent 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
• Carers bringing up those children face significant challenges, with almost two-thirds having raised stress levels - twice the national average - and 38 per cent exhibiting high levels of stress
Family Rights Group advises families whose children are involved with or need children’s services because of welfare needs or concerns. Its chief executive, Cathy Ashley, said: “Family and friends carers gain a lot of love and satisfaction from their role but it often has significant personal, mental and financial costs, which are exacerbated by the lack of support from local authorities.
“We know that the system simply cannot cope with the increasing numbers of children going into care – there’s a shortage of foster carers and there are huge delays in the court system. Consequently many children end up going through multiple moves, which can have a devastating impact on their lives.
“Our research shows many local authorities are not fully exploring and supporting opportunities to place children with family and friends, who can offer the security, continuity and love they so desperately need. These people are relieving a great deal of pressure from the state care system and acting in the best interests of incredibly vulnerable children, benefiting the rest of society. They deserve better. The amount and type of support carers receive from local authorities appears to bear little or no relationship to the child’s or carer’s needs, which is absolutely shocking.
“Councils’ failure to help and support people through the legal minefield when they are raising children that would otherwise be the authority’s responsibility is a dereliction of duty. The consequence is that carers, and, by direct implication, the children, are denied the legal, financial and practical support they are rightly entitled to.”
Paternal grandmother Irene and her husband look after their seven-year-old granddaughter ‘B’ and ‘B’’s half-sister, ‘A’, aged nine, who Irene refers to as her ‘gift of a granddaughter’.
She says she has been through hell and back with Cambridgeshire Social Services in a two-and-a-half year battle to gain a Special Guardianship Order, which was granted in January 2007.
The mum’s partner is believed to have caused non-accidental injuries to ‘A’ in April 2003, when she was four months old, and she was placed into foster care until her mother became pregnant with ‘B’ in 2004, at which point ‘A’ went back to live with her. Both girls were then subsequently removed from their mum in April 2005, which was when Irene and her husband decided to take on the children, even though only ‘B’ was a blood relative of theirs.
Irene said: “My involvement with social services was very upsetting and dispiriting. They backtracked on what they said and wanted to remove ‘A’ from us. They threatened to take my granddaughter if we did not let her go but I said no, they’re staying together.
“The council made me give up work as a nurse. They told me if I didn’t the children would not be placed with me. That was my career gone but the children’s needs came first. I sacrificed a lot but we felt that’s what we needed to do.
“This experience was very stressful. I served in the air force, and I’m a very strong character but they turned me into someone who easily broke down in tears because of the stress. I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid to open the door - we just did not know what social services were going to say or do next.”
Cathy Ashley added: “There has been a lot of talk from the Government recently about adoption but very little focus on alternatives for children who cannot live with their parents. We hope this report will highlight the incredibly important role family and friends carers are playing in providing permanent care for some of the country’s most vulnerable children.
“While the recent Government statutory guidance has helped to raise the issue of support for family and friends carers, there is considerable room for improvement. We want to see local authorities being audited and properly funded to ensure that guidance is being effectively implemented across the country. At present, that clearly isn’t happening.
“In the longer term, legislation is required to establish and fund a support framework and a national financial allowance for family and friends carers.
“The Government must also rethink changes to legal aid, which are going through the House of Lords today, which could further disadvantage carers resulting in a nonsensical situation where some family members cannot afford to obtain a permanent secure legal order for a child, who could otherwise end up in state care, at a significantly greater cost to the exchequer.”
Notes for editors
 The government published ‘Family and Friends Care: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities’, in March 2011, requiring every local authority to publish and publicise a policy on its approach to promoting and supporting the needs of children living with family and friends carers by the end of September 2011. Family Rights Group, on behalf of the Kinship Care Alliance, sent a Freedom of Information request in October 2011 to the director of Children’s Services in every local authority in England, requesting a copy of their Family and Friends Care policy and asking them how the policy had been developed.
 The children may be looked after under various legal arrangements:
- An informal arrangement with the parents’ agreement
- A court order obtained by the carer (a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order), giving the carer parental responsibility for the child. The local authority has the discretion to pay an allowance to the carer
- The child is looked after by the local authority and placed with the friend or relative who has been approved as a foster carer for the child. The carer does not have parental responsibility, which is either solely with the parents (if the child is in their care with their agreement) or the local authority also has parental responsibility if there is a care order for the child. The carer is entitled to receive a fostering allowance from the local authority.
1. Family Rights Group advises families whose children are involved with or need children’s services because of welfare needs or concerns. They promote policies and practices, including family group conferences, that help children to be raised safely and securely within their families, and campaign for effective support to assist family and friends carers, including grandparents who are raising children that cannot live at home.
2. Family Rights Group’s telephone and digital advice service helps families when social workers are involved with their children and has pioneered independent professional advocacy services for families involved with Children’s Services. They support practitioners through providing expert training and consultancy.
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). Understanding family and friends care: The largest UK survey (FRG). Survey of 493 carers 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.
4. The research reports were made possible thanks to the generous support of the Big Lottery Fund and other key funders including Tudor Trust, Trust for London, Family Justice Council, Noel Buxton Trust. Thanks also goes to Grandparents Plus with whom we jointly conducted the Understanding family and friends care: local authority policies report and our partners in the Kinship Care Alliance.
Cathy Ashley, Family Rights Group Chief Executive, has spoken out against government plans to draw up score cards for the speed with which local authorities are placing children for adoption
Ms Ashley said: “I am deeply concerned that we are moving to a system where speed of adoption matters much more than determining what is in the child's best interest when they can’t live with their parents and that fundamentally lies in finding the best and most appropriate home for them to permanently live.
>“We are also really worried that adoption score cards will lead to poor decisions, leading to higher adoption breakdowns and more siblings in care being split-up from each other, which can be absolutely heartbreaking for the children involved. We’re already seeing that happening, with some adopters refusing the child in care any contact with their younger brother or sister.
“What we find particularly lacking in the government’s announcement is any commitment to proven, viable alternatives to adoption for these children, including having them raised by their wider relatives.
“Evidence shows that many children raised by a grandparent, aunt, uncle or sibling end up in a loving, caring and stable home, providing the best outcome for that child, local authorities, the government and society.”
New film helps families and professionals deal with child protection conferences
A new website film to help parents and families going to child protection conferences has been released by advice charity Family Rights Group.
The film, available online from today, re-constructs a child protection conference explaining what it is all about, demystifying the process and the possible outcomes.
Marsha Rainford-May, acting service manager in the NorthWest child protection team for Westminster City Council, who appeared as an Independent Chairperson in the film, said: “The messages in this film are important in assisting families to be better prepared for what is a very difficult situation. It will also help promote good and reflective practice amongst social workers and other professionals and give them a better appreciation of what families go through. Sometimes we can forget what it’s like and the level of emotion involved.”
Cathy Ashley, Family Rights Group chief executive, said: “Child protection conferences are a statutory intervention in a family’s life and often parents’ reaction is to feel daunted, angry and very scared that their child will be taken away.
“Explaining the process visually will improve families’ ability to participate effectively in a child protection conference and give them greater ownership of the child protection plan.”
Family Rights Group identified a clear need for the video as more than one in four calls to its helpline are about child protection. Explaining what happens in a conference over the phone can be a complex task for advisers as they clarify the difficult process families face.
Ms Ashley, said: “Film is the easiest and clearest way to explain and demystify a child protection conference. Written information, which aims to do the same thing, is inevitably long and complex. Many of the target audience for the film may have language, literacy or learning difficulties.
“Research shows that getting families and professionals to work in partnership is key to enabling children to remain safely within their family home. This has clear benefits for the family, local authorities, the government and the rest of society.”
The practitioners’ roles are played by working professionals, creating a more realistic film.
Social worker Janet Phillip-Sargeant, from Waltham Forest Children’s Services, who also appears in the film, said: “This is good for parents, families and professionals as it prepares them well for the child protection conference setting and what they can expect - it will be a great help.”
About the film
The film is in two parts – before the conference and during and after the conference, plus there are filmed interviews with 4 professionals – enabling parents to dip in and out of the information.
Using professionals in role, and actors as parents the film is realistic and engaging. It will help both parents and practitioners prepare for, and participate in, these important meetings.
The film features Anne and Terry, who have been together for 18 months. Anne has a son, Jack, aged four from a previous relationship and the couple have a two-month old daughter, Layla.
The midwife was concerned about Anne’s alcohol use towards the end of the pregnancy with Layla. There were two incidents of domestic violence where the police were called and the family was subsequently referred to Children’s Services. They decided that, given Anne’s history and the apparent escalation of her alcohol use and the recent domestic violence, an initial child protection conference should be convened.
The film shows key participants at the conference including a social worker, deputy headteacher, health visitor, drug and alcohol worker, personal adviser and a police officer.
Mr Davis said: “We would normally liaise closely with the social worker but this scenario was believable and I found it easy to engage with the script.”
Notes for editors
Statement from Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive Family Rights Group in response to the record numbers of children being referred into care
Ms Ashley said: “The system can not cope with these numbers of children going into care. It’s been well reported that there’s a shortage of foster carers and there are huge delays in the court system, consequently many children end up going through multiple moves, which can have a devastating impact on their lives.
“Our experience at Family Rights Group shows there are a number of effective alternatives that can have a positive impact on reducing the number of children going into care, while ensuring the child’s safety.
“Firstly, Cafcass’s research highlights children are being taken away because of neglect. Providing parents, who may be struggling with their children for multiple reasons, with much greater help and support at an early stage can bring dramatic changes that prevent problems from escalating helping ensure their children remain safely with them. This was supported by the president of the Association of Director of Children’s Services.
“Secondly, our work shows that local authorities are still not fully exploring and supporting alternative family and friend options such as placing the children into the care of a grandparent, aunt or uncle, older sibling or close friend who can give the child the security, continuity and love they so desperately need. Family group conferences are an extremely effective way of identifying who in the wider family could take on the care of children if they can’t live with their parents - but only a minority of families are being offered this option.
“Thirdly, a lack of cooperation is a key reason why children end up in care proceedings and Family Rights Group is very effective at addressing that. Our work with families show when parents are subject to child protection enquiries by children’s services they tend to get angry, upset and are unable to hear what they’re being told by social workers and an antagonistic relationship develops. Our advice and advocacy services dramatically changes the dynamic between the two parties. Parents can have their voice heard and can hear, and therefore address, children’s services’ concerns.”
Statement from Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive Family Rights Group in response to BBC2 documentary, Protecting Our Children (shown last night)
“We have serious concerns about some of the issues raised in last night’s BBC 2 programme ‘Protecting Our Children’.
“The programme failed to show the practical parental support mum and dad needed, and which should have been provided by children’s social services, for the parents to have stood a real chance of being allowed to look after their children.
“These parents had little or no parenting skills. Mum has been in care herself and dad clearly struggled with significant difficulties too.
“These parents desperately needed practical help and hands-on guidance to improve their parenting skills. “In the child protection conference itself, the parents looked lost and isolated. Our experience is that too often in such an atmosphere, scared and angry parents can’t hear what social workers have to say and thus are seen as failing to co-operate. That’s why we promote having a specialist advocate to help the parents listen and be heard.
“The film also failed to clearly explore the impact of splitting up of the siblings. At the end of the film, it was clear that although the plan for the older child was adoption, no such placement had been found. Instead he was separated from his sister and contact with his mother had ceased.
“The film provides just a snapshot of this families’ life. But the indications are, and we know from our work, that effective early help from the outset can often avoid the tragic situation of families being broken up and children ending up in care.”
Statement from Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive Family Rights Group in response to the Government’s review on the assessment process for prospective adopters including formation of an expert panel
“It is not in any child’s interest for there to be unnecessary delays in the adoption process, but the system must be rigorous. We are extremely concerned that so much attention is being given by Martin Narey, the new government adoption tsar, to the needs of potential adopters rather than on the welfare of individual children and the importance of finding a placement that is right for them. Any review of adoption should reflect the needs of these vulnerable children and also their connections with their birth family, it is therefore worrying that absent from the review panel are organisations with specialist knowledge of representing children in care and their birth families.
Moreover, the current focus upon adoption is in danger of distracting attention from addressing the wider crisis affecting the rising number of children in the care system, and many more on the edge of care. For most of these children, adoption will never be a desirable or feasible option, but they do need stability, love and security. The Fostering Network this week highlighted a significant shortage of fostering carers, which means “too many children in care are having to settle for second best.. living with a foster carer a long way from the child’s family …or who does not have space for their brothers and sisters.., or even living in residential care when fostering has been identified as the right option.” Four times as many children, who cannot live with their parents, are being raised by with relatives or friends as there are in the care system. Often these impoverished family and friends carers, mainly grandparents or older siblings, receive no support from the state and are left to deal on their own with traumatised children, putting the placement at risk. It is vital that Government policy really focuses upon securing the best outcomes for all these children.”
Statement from Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive Family Rights Group in response to today’s Court of Appeal Judgement re Kent County Council (versus a grandparent carer)
“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.”
Family Rights Group's response to the Family Justice Review:
The Charity, responding to the Family Justice Review’s final report, welcomed many of the detailed proposals aimed at reducing court delays and improving judicial continuity. However, it expressed serious concerns that not more was being proposed to avert care proceedings and that some of the Review’s recommendations could water down the court’s ability to scrutinize key decisions in care cases, for example whether siblings should be placed together.
Cathy Ashley, Family Rights Group’s Chief Executive commented.
“There are many thoughtful proposals in this report which we welcome. We are extremely supportive of measures to introduce a single family court and specialist family judges, to expand the Family Drugs and Alcohol Court and strengthen the role of Independent Reviewing Officers. We strongly back the report’s recommendation to enable siblings to apply for contact without the need to seek the permission of the court. And we view the new Child Arrangements Order as a very constructive way of enabling parents and family members to make consensual arrangements about a child but with legal bite
“However, we are seriously concerned that the combination of a number of measures, including interim care orders being extended for up to 6 months and proposals to significantly reduce the role of the judge in scrutinizing care plans, will result in cases of very poor local authority practice going unchallenged. We regularly come across such cases, where it is the judge’s intervention that proved key in ensuring that the child’s interests were fully considered. We fear that removing such scrutiny will be to the detriment of very vulnerable children and families.
“Whilst encouraged that alternative dispute resolution, including piloting mediation in public law cases, is mentioned in the review, we think the review could have gone much further in how this could be used when children are on the edge of care. There is evidence that advice and advocacy for parents during the child protection process can help them understand and face up to serious problems when they first emerge. Most families are still not offered a family group conference prior to care proceedings. This is despite the evidence that they are often effective in averting children going into care, by enabling the child to live safely and securely within their extended family network, for example with grandparents.”
In response to the Government’s announcements today on adoption, Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group commented:
“It is the responsibility of all of us, to ensure that every child is brought up in a stable, loving environment. But decisions about the future of each vulnerable child should reflect their specific needs and circumstances and must never be driven by a local authority’s wish to look good in a performance table.
League tables and targets have been discredited by the Munro Review into child protection, which showed that often they didn’t message a child or family’s actual experiences, but could be manipulated and distorted. We are deeply concerned that Government is the now proposing to revive such tables for adoption performance.
The Ofsted report last week on children on the edge of care, confirmed what we know from advising thousands of families each year about the welfare and protection of their children, that early intervention and intensive support, can prevent more children from unnecessarily entering into care. Such help is not consistently being provided now.
We are also under no misapprehension that some children cannot remain with their parents. However, we are also clear that removing a child unnecessarily away from its birth family can be devastating for the child and that considerably more could be done to safeguard children within their families. Consistently overlooked is that fact that there are four times as many children, who cannot live with their parents, being raised by with relatives or friends as there are in the care system. Often these impoverished family and friends carers, mainly grandparents, receive no support from the state and are left to deal on their own with traumatised children. We know of placements that have faltered or broken down because of lack of support from authorities, despite the pleading of relatives for help.
The most significant step any Government could take to improve the lives of children who cannot live safely with their parents, would be to introduce a proper national financial and practical support system for family and friends carers.”