The Government has made a major announcement setting out its plans to improve support for children and families, including a number of new commitments to supporting kinship families.
In May last year, the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care made recommendations to the Government on how to improve support for kinship carers. Since then, you’ve helped us to push the Government on their response to these recommendations by signing the #ValueOurLove campaign petition, emailing your MP, and posting on social media.
See below for our summary of what the Government has now committed to doing for kinship families in its new plan. We’ve welcomed a step change in support for kinship families, but warned that the Government needs to go further and faster to ensure all kinship carers can benefit. It must also provide local authorities with the long-term, sustainable funding they need; the overall investment made today in children’s social care falls far short of what is required to help all children thrive.
Recognising kinship care
The Government has placed kinship care and “unlocking the potential of family networks” at the heart of its new reforms.
The Government’s plan recognises that kinship care “has received little national policy attention” and that “too little support is given to extended family members who play a caring role for their young relatives”.
It highlights the stability and other benefits of kinship care for children, including maintaining connections with the people they love and achieving better outcomes in health and education, as well as how it makes economic sense for local authorities. This is an enormous shift in focus and attention from what has come before.
National kinship care strategy
The Government has pledged to deliver a dedicated national kinship care strategy by the end of this year.
A new strategy just for kinship care will finally put the spotlight on kinship carers and their children and gives them the recognition they deserve, just like our #ValueOurLove campaign asked for. It also signals a step change in how the Government are thinking about and prioritising kinship care – they’ll set out clearly what they intend to do and by when. Similar strategies like the one for adoption have helped to drive Government action in a particular area, and it means we’ll be able to hold them to account on their progress to improve support for kinship families in the future.
It does mean that we will have to wait a little longer to get some of the other commitments from Government which kinship families need. But it provides another concrete opportunity to push for national reform. We’ll be supporting as many kinship carers as possible to share their views and expertise to help the Government develop this new strategy.
Support and training for kinship carers
The Government will invest in a new national offer of support and training for kinship carers, including informal carers.
£9 million will be invested in a new national programme to ensure all kinship carers get access to high-quality guidance and support, including tailored training to help them throughout their journeys. This is a significant win for our #ValueOurLove campaign which is calling on the Government to equalise support and training between kinship carers and foster carers.
The Government has said this offer will be co-created with kinship carers to go live in Spring 2024, and could include both face-to-face and online training, useful resources, and access to independent guidance and support. The Government’s plan highlights one of our programmes – Kinship Ready – as an example of existing good practice.
Kinship care and early family support
The Government will fund local authorities to test new ways of involving and supporting kinship carers much earlier and create a “family first” culture.
The Government will invest in a series of new pilot projects to test out new “family-led solutions” which ensure the system doesn’t overlook family members who could care for a child with proper support.
These trials include testing of how to better involve family members earlier in decisions made about a child (known as ‘family group decision making’) and how to transform support for kinship carers without a legal order to prevent a child going into local authority care (known as ‘family network support packages’). Only a small group of local authorities will be taking part in these trials at first, beginning in Spring 2023.
Ofsted will also update their guidance and inspector training to ensure they properly look at the quality of support being provided to kinship carers and children, and improvements will be made to training for social workers so they have the right skills and knowledge to prioritise kinship care.
The Government will explore the case for mandating a financial allowance for all SGOs and CAOs in every local authority in England.
Our #ValueOurLove campaign has put significant pressure on the Government to equalise financial allowances between kinship carers and foster carers. Although the Government hasn’t committed to doing this just yet, we’re now one significant step further ahead with this goal.
The Government has agreed that too many kinship carers are forced to become foster carers unnecessarily just to get access to financial support and will explore the case for introducing a consistent approach to financial allowances for special guardians and carer with child arrangements orders. An update on this will be shared in the kinship care strategy by the end of the year.
In addition, the Government will encourage all local authorities to review their existing policies and encourage them to act sooner to financially support kinship carers, especially when this is the only barrier to stability for children.
We will be pushing the Government to go further and faster on financial support in their dedicated kinship care strategy later in the year.
Kinship care leave
The Government will also “explore possible additional workplace entitlements”.
We’re disappointed a firmer plan hasn’t been made at this point to introduce kinship care leave on a par with adoption leave, but we’re pleased the Department for Education is listening to our #ValueOurLove campaign and will be prioritising further work on this with other Government departments. We’ll push for a commitment on this in the dedicated kinship care strategy and continue our work with employers and local authorities to build the case for equalising leave between kinship carers and adopters.
Access to legal aid
The Government will also explore “options for an extension of legal aid for carers with SGOs and CAOs”.
The Government has not announced any new extensions to legal aid for kinship carers, but has committed to working with the Ministry of Justice to explore this further, and we hope to see further pledges made in the kinship care strategy.
Some legal aid changes are already currently underway – an extension to include special guardianship orders in private law cases is expected to come into force from 1 May 2023.
Support for informal kinship carers
The Government wants to increase the visibility of informal kinship carers through a new definition.
The Government is asking for views on its ‘working definition’ of kinship care. Establishing a new definition could help to improve the visibility of kinship carers across Government, and support carers and others to understand exactly what they’re entitled to.
Elsewhere, the pilots of new ‘family network support packages’ (see ‘Kinship care and early family support’ above) will build further understanding about how local authorities can transform support for informal carers, and the new training and support offer (see ‘Support and training for kinship carers’ above) will extend to informal carers too.
Support for children in kinship care
The Government hasn’t made any specific commitments to equalising support between children in kinship care and children in local authority care.
Our #ValueOurLove campaign is calling on Government to boost educational and mental health support for children in kinship care, recognising their needs and experiences are similar to those who enter local authority care. However, any commitments to extend further support to kinship children are absent in the Government’s new plan.
This is a missed opportunity. However, the Government has said that the new kinship care strategy later this year will allow them to focus on issues which weren’t included in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommendations, such as educational entitlements.