Our kinship care policy tracker is the best place to understand more about the current state of play for kinship care policy in England.
Kinship care is a fast-moving policy space. Below you’ll find an overview of current action, our verdict, and what we think should happen next across a range of kinship care policy areas. Our policy tracker does not represent a formal nor complete response in all areas; we regularly update the content below as progress is made, as new evidence emerges, and as our thinking as an organisation develops. We want to share our views early and often so you and others can help strengthen and support our policy work.
To learn more about key policy areas for Kinship and explore reports, briefings and other resources, visit our policy and influencing page. For further information, or for a conversation about Kinship’s work to influence national and local policy, please get in touch.
18 Dec: Revised structure and all sections following the publication of the National Kinship Care Strategy on 15 December 2023.
23 Nov: Amended ‘Financial allowances’ and ‘Kinship care leave’ sections following the Autumn Statement 2023.
1 Nov: Amended ‘Training and support or kinship carers’ section following announcement of a new national training and support offer to be delivered by Kinship.
27 Sep: Revised structure to add separate ‘Defining kinship care’ and ‘Data’ sections, added new information on the ONS’ analysis of kinship households, added news on Tesco’s commitment to kinship care leave, and downgraded ‘Prioritising and supporting early kinship arrangements’ to ‘In the right direction…’ following the Government’s Stable Homes response.
18 Sep: Added updated information on kinship care and data in the ‘Recognising kinship care’ section, including noting the forthcoming 2021 Census analysis release.
26 July: Amended information on the pathfinder and pilot activity in the ‘Prioritising and supporting early kinship arrangements’ section following the release of further details, including participating local authorities.
19 July: Added updated information on the Family Network Support Package pilots in the ‘Prioritising and supporting early kinship arrangements’ section.
5 July: Added to the ‘Financial allowances’ section to include a recent recommendation from the Lords Public Services Committee, and updated the ‘Training and support for kinship carers’ and ‘Recognising kinship care’ sections (e.g. to include details of a new tender for a national kinship care dataset).
15 June: Updated ‘Kinship care leave’ section to include reference to Forced Out, clarified language in ‘Prioritising and supporting early kinship arrangements’ section, and added note re: ‘whole family’ support in ‘Support for kinship children’ section.
2 May: Updated ‘Access to legal aid’ section with note of new extended eligibility for those pursuing special guardianship in private family law.
26 April: Updated ‘Access to legal aid’ section with additional evidence on non-parental private family law applications.
16 March: Updated ‘Financial allowances’ and ‘Kinship care leave’ sections following announcements made in the 2023 Spring Budget around childcare, Qualifying Care Relief and flexible working.
13 March: First published.
Good progress is being made.
In the right direction, but further and faster effort required.
Action significantly lagging behind what’s needed.
- 💚 Recognising kinship care
- 💛 Building a new kinship care system
- 💛 Defining kinship care
- 💚 Data and research
- 💛 Engaging and supporting family networks
- 💛 Financial allowances
- ❤️ Kinship care leave
- 💚 Training and support for kinship carers
- ❤️ Family justice and legal aid
- 💛 Support for children in kinship care
- ❤️ Therapeutic support for kinship families
- 💛 Improving local authority practice
Recognising kinship care
The Government is placing family networks at the heart of children’s social care and has published a dedicated National Kinship Care Strategy.
The Government’s Stable Homes, Built on Love implementation strategy published in February 2023 prioritised, for the first time, kinship care as a central pillar of children’s social care and of the Government’s work to improve support for families.
The new National Kinship Care Strategy – Championing Kinship Care – published in December 2023, continues to reaffirm kinship care as a core part of the national vision for children’s social care as never before with new commitments to kinship families throughout 2024-5.
The Government’s new Children’s Social Care National Framework, published as statutory guidance alongside the National Kinship Care Strategy, has as one of its key principles that the best place for most children to grow up is in their families or with kinship carers. Outcome 2 (of four) within the Framework is “children and young people are supported by their family network”. This statutory guidance sets out how leaders and practitioners should strive to achieve this outcome, and how children, young people and families should be listened to in practice.
The Government’s continued recognition of kinship care as a distinct and valuable element within children’s social care, and the celebration of its positive impact for children and society, marks a step change from previous Government rhetoric and action which focused almost exclusively on fostering and adoption. After decades of being overlooked and marginalised, the value of this acknowledgement by Government of kinship families’ challenges and strengths is new and welcome.
In its response to the Stable Homes, Built on Love consultation, the Government acknowledged that the “level of interest in support for kinship carers” had “reaffirmed how important it is to act now”. We were delighted to lead the way in supporting kinship carers to share their views with the Government on its plans; over 400 kinship carers responded to the consultation, representing nearly half of all respondents.
We welcome that the Government has finally established kinship care as a key part of the children’s social care system, placed it at the heart of its new National Framework to set national direction and local authority practice, and delivered for the first time ever a National Kinship Care Strategy. Other revised statutory guidance, including Working Together to Safeguard Children, now makes explicit reference to promoting the upbringing of children in kinship care arrangements.
It’s also right that the wider principles underpinning children’s social care include recognition that children are best raised in family environments where possible – one of the key principles within the Children Act 1989 – and that practice and services are poverty-aware and anti-discriminatory, and are drawn from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
What should happen next
With the recent publication of the National Kinship Care Strategy, the Government should ensure that this national recognition of kinship care filters through more widely across Government policymaking and public services, and to local authorities and practice. Sections below including ‘Building a new kinship care system’, ‘Defining kinship care’ and ‘Improving local authority practice’ explore current progress here and what we think should happen next.
Building a new kinship care system
The National Kinship Care Strategy articulates a new vision for kinship care but without a detailed roadmap for long term reform.
The Government agreed within its Stable Homes, Built on Love implementation strategy that “kinship care has received little national policy attention” and that “even where children are in kinship arrangements, too little support is given to extended family members who play a caring role for their young relatives”. As such, the Government pledged to deliver a dedicated national kinship care strategy by the end of 2023 to “establish the foundations for a future, transformed kinship care system in England”.
The National Kinship Care Strategy has now been published. It commits to £20 million investment until March 2025 as part of ‘Phase One’ reforms to “pivot the system to ensure children and families are at the very centre”, after which ‘Phase Two’ reforms will seek to embed the most effective policies so that more children in kinship care can benefit. It explains that the Strategy is “the first step” in the Government’s journey to reform kinship care.
New and existing advisory structures to support the Department’s continued work have been outlined in the National Kinship Care Strategy. A new National Kinship Care Advisory Board of sector experts will be established to support and scrutinise the Department’s reform programme for kinship care, advising the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing. This Board will sit alongside the continuing Kinship Carer Reference Group who will continue to advise the Department for Education on its work around kinship care.
One of the Strategy’s commitments includes an agreement from the Law Commission to conduct a review into the legal statuses and orders for kinship carers, and make recommendations to Government on how the legislative framework could be simplified or improved. This will “begin when resources at the Commission become available, following the completion of current projects” and the terms of reference will be published on the Commission’s website “in due course”. Details released by the Commission so far confirm the project will consider the assessment and approval process for kinship carers and the potential for reform of current legal orders in the kinship care context, including the possibility of a new bespoke order for this situation; it will not consider the reform of legal orders beyond their application in kinship care nor other changes to legal aid, financial allowances or other issues beyond the Commission’s remit best “addressed by changes to practice, procedure or funding”.
We welcome the National Kinship Care Strategy which finally gives kinship care some of the focused policy attention it deserves. The delivery of a dedicated kinship care strategy marks a significant win for our #ValueOurLove campaign which had called upon the Government to deliver a specific strategy for kinship care in response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.
However, whilst making funded commitments to kinship families over the coming two years and setting future ambition and direction through the Children’s Social Care National Framework, the Strategy stops short of articulating a detailed, longer-term roadmap for kinship care. Its problem diagnosis and vision for the future is fairly strong overall, but – as with wider children’s social care implementation plans – what is expected beyond the current Spending Review period still remains unknown. This Strategy should be seen as only the very start of providing kinship families with what they need and deserve.
Kinship families need the Government to provide urgent and targeted support for kinship families today, and to build a future system which supports the kinship families of tomorrow. The sequencing of these two aspects is crucial: the Government’s welcome prioritisation of kinship care and specific actions to rebalance the system in favour of family networks (e.g. the use of relevant Dashboard Indicators as part of the new National Framework) should not push the system towards increasing the number and/or proportion of all children unable to live with their parents into kinship care before accompanying reforms to financial and other support for all kinship carers have been introduced. To do so would be dangerous and not in children’s best interests.
Additional investment across children’s social care is notably absent from the Government’s plans. We echo the calls of the Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Children’s Services and other groups for the Government to ensure children’s services has the funding it needs to fulfil not only its statutory duties but provide all children and families with the support they need. Local authorities cannot be expected to do increasingly more with increasingly less; radical recalibration of services, practices and culture which better prioritise and support kinship care cannot be delivered successfully without greater financial and workforce stability supported by wider investment too in children’s social care. Increasing and deepening levels of child poverty risk undermining long-term efforts to pivot the system towards greater use and support for kinship care, given what we know about the impact of poverty and deprivation on likelihood of child welfare intervention.
The Law Commission’s commitment to review legal orders for kinship carers is very welcome; as an advisory non-departmental public body sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, recommendations from the Law Commission are taken extremely seriously by Government and there are recognised parliamentary mechanisms to speed up the process of implementing their reports.
What should happen next
We urge the Government to make additional commitments to support kinship carers and only seek to include Dashboard Indicators (see ‘Data and research’ below) and practice which incentivises the placing of more children into kinship care once we are confident these different arrangements are well-supported by policy and practice as part of a new system. It’s welcome the Government has recognised this and, within Stable Homes, Built on Love, argued that kinship care “should not be seen as a free (or nearly free) option for local authorities to reduce costs. Savings should be diverted to supporting kinship carers and children”. However, this message must continue to be reaffirmed in action by Government and local authorities.
It is crucial a future system is built around the recognition that kinship care is fundamentally different to other forms of care for children who cannot live with their parents. Simply extending entitlements or support currently available to foster or adoptive families – without consideration of the unique needs, strengths and circumstances of kinship care – will not deliver what kinship families need nor the outcomes intended.
The Government’s plans to reform kinship care must also consider in what ways its commitments will or will not disproportionately impact on kinship carers and children from specific ethnic backgrounds. This is important given the evidence on racial disparities in kinship care, and particularly the overrepresentation of children from Black and minoritized ethnic backgrounds in informal kinship care arrangements. We are yet to understand if the National Kinship Care Strategy has been accompanied by both a thorough equalities impact assessment (EIA) and child rights impact assessment (CRIA) as we recommended.
The views and expertise of kinship families must continue to meaningfully shape the Government’s kinship care reform work. We have been proud to support kinship carers to share their views with the Department to inform the National Kinship Care Strategy, but the Government should work closely with organisations such as Kinship to ensure a range of mechanisms and opportunities enable a large and diverse range of kinship carers to input into the development and subsequent delivery of ongoing and further reform.
Defining kinship care
The Government has published a new definition of kinship care and will move towards consistent use of ‘kinship care’ instead of ‘family and friends care’.
In the National Kinship Care Strategy, the Government has outlined a new definition kinship care. This comes after a consultation earlier in the year on a working definition published in Stable Homes, Built on Love, following the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’s recommendation to establish a legal definition of kinship care.
The definition has and will be included in new statutory guidance, but no plans are in place at present to enshrine the definition in primary legislation. More widely, Government will replace use of the term ‘family and friends care’ with ‘kinship care’, including within new statutory guidance for local authorities.
The Law Commission’s future kinship care project has confirmed that its scope will include consideration of producing a legal definition of kinship care.
A new Government definition of kinship care could improve the visibility of and support for kinship families across policy-making and public services, and to help kinship carers to better understand their rights and entitlements and in turn access support.
The definition pulls together different types of kinship care arrangements already understood but not clearly defined as ‘kinship care’ in other legislation and guidance, and builds on this to also include those missing or excluded from existing categories. For example, the new definition covers relatives such as great aunts, great uncles and cousins who wouldn’t be included within the existing definition of ‘close family member’ within the Children Act 1989. This is important and welcome – 11% of kinship carers who completed our 2022 annual survey would not be understood as ‘close family members’ for example.
However, current Government plans for kinship care fail to effectively utilise the definition. We argued firmly that any new definition should be accompanied by a clear pathway for all kinship carers to access high-quality support from the Government, local authorities and other partners. Instead, commitments made in the National Kinship Care Strategy – such as the financial allowances pathfinder and part of the extension of Virtual School Heads – continue to undermine the definition’s value by restricting support to particular groups of kinship carers.
Instead of simplifying and working to introduce new support for a wider group of kinship carers, this instead introduces further hierarchies in which groups of kinship carers have eligibility for particular entitlements.
Moving towards use ‘kinship care’ rather than ‘family and friends care’ is welcome; consistent use of terminology across Government and beyond will improve understanding and enable more kinship carers to identify as so.
What should happen next
We hope this inclusive definition will support Government, public services and others who impact the lives of children and families to better recognise and understand all kinship families. In the future, the Government should seek to more actively use the definition in determining who is eligible for support, even if the approach or mechanism for delivery may vary. All kinship carers – regardless of the legal order or lack thereof securing the family arrangement – typically have similar needs, experiences and strengths, and this should be reflected in the support offered to them.
The Government should also now detail how it will use the definition to raise awareness and ensure the needs and strengths of kinship families are considered in wider policy-making and service provision across Government, including in relevant programmes of work such as family hubs and the Start for Life programme. This should include an ambitious programme to boost awareness of kinship care within public services and groups of professionals who are likely to engage with kinship families, including primary health practitioners. Without this active effort, a new definition itself will not help to eradicate the stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding which too many kinship carers face.
Data and research
Evidence and data around kinship care is developing at pace which will provide new insights to support policymaking and practice.
In September 2023, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its analysis of kinship households from the Census 2021. This finds that there likely more than 130,000 children living in kinship care across England, although there are significant limitations to the use of the Census questions to determine this. For more information, please see our full response to the new ONS data release.
We know there is significant variation in the geography and profile of kinship carers; for example, research shows that children from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds are significantly underrepresented in kinship foster care and kinship special guardianship. Kinship is leading a research project alongside the Rees Centre to understand more about the specific experiences and needs of Black and Asian kinship families.
Alongside the Children’s Social Care National Framework, the Government is also working to produce a Children’s Social Care Dashboard. This intends to be a routine data publication based on a set of Dashboard Indicators which aim to help identify trends across local authorities and monitor progress towards each outcome. The shortlisted Indicator published in December 2023 for Outcome 2 of the National Framework is ‘Percentage of children who cease being looked after due to moving into Special Guardianship Order (SGO), or Care Arrangement Order (CAO)’, but this may change as the Department’s work on this continues. Roll out of the Dashboard will be phased with an iterative approach based on learning from 2024.
Other forthcoming research highlighted within the National Kinship Care Strategy includes a Departmental commission involving Ecorys UK, the Rees Centre and Ipsos to deliver a longitudinal study tracking the needs, experiences and outcomes of children leaving care to special guardianship (and adoption), as well as a systematic review, led by Foundations, identifying interventions for kinship families that improve outcomes for children. Previously, What Works for Children’s Social Care carried out a feasibility study for delivering a randomised control trial of our Kinship Connected programme, which has also had its own external evaluation.
There is no available data that gives us an accurate and robust understanding of kinship families across the country. This is in stark contrast to other areas of children’s social care, such as fostering and adoption, and maintains kinship families’ invisibility to policymakers. As such, the data linking project between the Ministry of Justice and Department for Education is very welcome and something we have called for consistently to provide a comprehensive picture of at least formalised kinship care arrangements.
The Children’s Social Care Dashboard and Dashboard Indicators, if realised well, could enable kinship carers and others to understand more about local authority variation in kinship care outcomes and practice. However, as noted above (see ‘Building a new kinship care system’), these Indicators must not prematurely push the system towards increasing the number and/or proportion of all children unable to live with their parents into kinship care before accompanying reforms to financial and other support for all kinship carers have been introduced. To do so would be dangerous and not in children’s best interests, and risks undermining welcome new efforts to improve support for families.
What should happen next
The Government should work closely with Kinship (including our researchers network) and other expert sector organisations such as Foundations and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory to identify gaps in research, evidence, and statutory and wider data collection and publication, and confirm further plans to improve this. A collaborative and comprehensive approach is needed to ensure research and data resource is focused strategically on what is most needed to improve our understanding of kinship families.
The data linking project should extend not only to the SSDA903 returns from local authorities but too other sources of data held by the Department for Education, such as the National Pupil Database. This will help provide a rounded picture of how different kinship care cohorts are faring in education too. The Department should also consider utilising other means of data collection available within its own work (e.g. the School Census) and that of other Government departments to build an improved picture of kinship families and help improve policymaking and services targeted towards them.
Engaging and supporting family networks
The Government is piloting new models of ‘family first’ delivery and working towards increased use of family group decision making.
Previously: 💚 (September 2023)
In February 2023, the Government announced within Stable Homes, Built on Love £45 million investment into two new programmes of work to test how to better identify and support early kinship arrangements. This followed the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’s recommendation that a legal right to family group decision-making is introduced along with new Family Network Plans to better support kinship arrangements to prevent a child going into care,
The majority of the funding is delivering the Families First for Children Pathfinder (FFC) until March 2025: this aims to understand how to best roll out reforms to Family Help, child protection and kinship care in tandem, improving understanding on implementing “end-to-end service reform” and how each element impacts one another and the experience of children and families. 3 local authorities are participating in Wave 1, with a second set of local areas expected to launch in spring 2024.
In addition to the Pathfinder, a separate £7.8 million Family Network Pilot (FNP) series is being delivered which tests out only the introduction of Family Network Support Packages in isolation within seven local authorities: 4 in Wave 1 having begun in summer 2023 and 3 others expected to follow in summer 2024.
Family Network Support Packages are renamed from the ‘Family Network Plans’ recommended by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care following feedback that a new ‘Plan’ could introduce legal confusion and additional burdens. Their aims remain similar however, as a structure to support family-led alternatives used prior to a child entering care which enable extended family networks to provide additional and substantial care for children. The National Kinship Care Strategy, published in December 2023, confirmed that the Department for Education will publish evaluation findings from the Family Network Pilot in Spring 2025 to inform future decisions about the wider rollout of Family Network Support Packages.
The Children’s Social Care National Framework and revised Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance highlight the expectation that family networks are engaged and empowered from an early point in referral, and that the voices of family networks are prioritised through the use of family group decision making wherever possible.
The National Kinship Care Strategy also notes that new statutory guidance on kinship care (see ‘Improving local authority practice’) will encourage local authorities to make use of findings from Foundations’ randomised control trial of family group conferences (FGCs) and work towards every family being offered an FGC at pre-proceedings stage, and will explore using legislation to mandate this in the future. The Strategy also highlights a digital innovation pilot taking place in North Yorkshire which aims to help social workers more easily and quickly identify family networks who could help to support children.
It is understandable that the Government wants to test out new ways of working in tandem with each other to learn more about how to implement whole-system reforms successfully. In its Stable Homes, Built on Love consultation response, the Government has said it is “proposing to develop the pathfinders on an incremental basis, with certain elements that we’d need to see as a minimum now and an expectation that the pathfinder would expand its remit in future after we have tested and evaluated the concept”.
However, this is unlikely to provide sufficient clarity for other local authorities who want to pioneer new ways of working today. Longer-term expectations around funding, timescales and accompanying points of assessment to stop, scale or adjust pilot activity were missing from the Government’s response and from the National Kinship Care Strategy.
The shift towards much earlier involvement of and funded support for kinship carers prior to a legal order being made and without the child having to become ‘looked after’ is welcome, particularly as support for informal kinship carers is often poor or non-existent. Our 2022 annual survey – The Cost of Loving – found that only 4% of informal kinship carers received financial support from their local authority, despite their children’s similar needs and experiences to those in other forms of kinship care. Too many kinship carers are perversely incentivised to become foster carers and their children ‘looked after’ as this is the only way which kinship families can often access guaranteed support.
It is also important that kinship carers who have taken steps towards permanence through securing a special guardianship order, for example, aren’t ‘locked out’ of potential support through a Family Network Support Package if their assessed needs determine this is the only way to offer the level of support required and where there is a risk the child would otherwise go into care.
What should happen next
According to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, the kind of support offered via Family Network Plans (now known as Family Network Support Packages) could include significant and intensive efforts which respond flexibly to fund different families’ needs, including “providing funding to make adaptations to a relative’s home through to compensating someone for reduced working hours”. This level of intensive support must be realised within the delivery of the Pathfinder and pilots in order to properly evidence how early support can deliver better experiences and outcomes for families, and establish more effective spending practices for local authorities.
In delivery of the pilots, local authorities and the Department for Education should consider the role of the voluntary sector, especially where collaboration could provide further insight and evidence about how the support offered through programmes such as Kinship Connected – which delivers intensive 1:1 support and facilitated peer support groups – can further improve experience and outcomes for families alongside practice reforms.
The Pathfinder and pilots must seek to understand how to balance requirements for assessment and ongoing formal oversight from local authorities whilst respecting the unique nature of kinship care and its position straddling state-led child welfare intervention and private family life. This was a key message within our response to the Government’s Stable Homes, Built on Love consultation. Kinship carers should be involved in co-designing how to do this well, and in ways which reduce unnecessary, stigmatising and invasive practice.
As noted elsewhere, although testing of new approaches to supporting kinship care is welcome, the radical recalibration of services, practices and culture cannot be delivered successfully without greater financial and workforce stability. The Government should ensure all local authorities, including those not participating in the Pathfinder or pilots, have the funding they need to deliver their statutory duties and so that all children and families are supported as they need to be.
The Government will test financial allowances in up to eight local authorities, but others can and should continue to pioneer leading practice.
The National Kinship Care Strategy has committed to delivering a 4-year pilot of financial allowances across up to 8 local authorities from 2024-28, with £16 million funding committed to for year one (2024-5). Only special guardians where the child was previously in care will be eligible, and the amount offered will be equivalent to the fostering allowance in that local authority. This will explore how a financial allowance can deliver improved outcomes for families and cost savings for local authorities.
The Government has said it will “explore expanding eligibility to broader cohorts of kinship carers and all local authorities in the future, subject to the findings of our evaluation”, and committed to sharing further information on the Pathfinder in Spring 2024. Participating local authorities are not yet known.
Some pioneering local authorities already deliver a consistent, non means tested financial allowance for groups of kinship carers, most commonly special guardians where the child was previously looked after. Existing statutory guidance on special guardianship support sets out the circumstances in which kinship carer special guardians should expect financial assessment and support, and how this should be delivered. Most local authorities continue to deliver only discretionary means tested financial support subject to annual review during a transitionary period following the making of the order.
The Government has previously celebrated those local authorities who offer equivalent financial support already. Stable Homes, Built on Love highlights that “this often makes good financial sense for local authorities, kinship carers and, ultimately, for children and their outcomes”. It argues the provision of flexible funding for kinship arrangements makes economic sense, noting that some local authorities have seen a financial benefit – particularly where this has reduced the numbers of children in care – and encourages others to follow suit. The Government has said “we do not want local authorities and partners to feel the need to wait for permission to act now” and that local authorities should “feel confident to pursue approaches and ways of working that we know are the right ones”, including the provision of financial support for kinship carers.
We’re disappointed that the Government hasn’t made a commitment to introduce financial allowances nationally for a wider group of kinship carers and end the unfairness which denies financial support and plunges many families unnecessarily into poverty. As a result, too many kinship carers will continue to worry about how their financial circumstances will impact on their ability to care for their kinship children.
Stable Homes, Built on Love committed to “explore the case for mandating” a mandatory financial allowance across all local authorities, as recommended by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in 2022 for special guardians and kinship carers with child arrangements orders where the child would otherwise be in care. In our 2022 annual survey, 8 in 10 kinship carers told us that this was the most important recommendation made by the Review and the one thing they wanted to see the Government implement above all else.
The Lords Public Services Committee in its response to the children’s social care implementation strategy had also encouraged the Government to go further and suggested that it “should ensure that sufficient financial support for those caring for their kin is provided regardless of whether the arrangement is formal or informal, and that it is consistent across England. Additional funding should be allocated to local authorities to provide this support in the immediate future.”
The Government should listen to the evidence included within the implementation strategy on the elevated exposure of kinship families to poverty and financial insecurity, including that from our recent surveys. Elsewhere in its strategy, the Government recognised the value of strong financial support for carers raising vulnerable children, including within plans to test Family Network Support Packages and to raise the National Minimum Allowance for foster carers by 12.43%. In the 2023 Spring Budget, the Government too announced an increase in the threshold at which foster carers (including kinship foster carers) eligible for Qualifying Care Relief begin to pay tax. The success of other reforms such as these depend on closing the significant gaps in support which exist for kinship families moving towards permanence.
Despite this, a multi-year pilot is an important step forward. For the first time, concrete actions are being taken by Government to extend financial allowances to more kinship carers. Committing to funding for a four-year pilot to test out the delivery of allowances also reflects how seriously the Government is taking kinship care; it is rare for new commitments to be made beyond the current Spending Review period which ends in 2025, and so this marks the financial allowances pathfinder out amongst the Government’s other children’s social care reform commitments.
Previously, the Government’s Stable Homes, Built on Love strategy had agreed with the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care’s assessment that the current system perversely incentivises kinship carers to become foster carers given this can be the only route to access financial support, and acknowledged this can be a barrier to permanence for children who would otherwise be cared for under a different legal order which confers parental responsibility to the kinship carer.
The eligibility restriction to those who are special guardians where the child was previously in care is disappointing but signals a clear intention of the pathfinder to explore specifically whether a consistent financial allowance acts as a significant influence in decisions to move towards the permanency of special guardianship for kinship foster carers (or, put another way, if the lack of existing guaranteed financial support for special guardians acts as the crucial barrier which keeps kinship foster carers in that arrangement). We know there is a strong economic argument for well-supported kinship care which involves supporting children to be cared for outside of the local authority care system. However, there was an opportunity to deliver a more substantual pilot with a broader scope, exploring the outcomes for a wider group of kinship families when consistent financial support is offered, which has been missed.
We welcome those local authorities who have recognised that investing in kinship care makes sense and continue to deliver pioneering practice in financially supporting special guardians and other kinship carers. Elsewhere, special guardianship guidance on the provision of financial support continues to be misunderstood and delivered poorly – and sometimes unlawfully – in practice, leading to highly variable experiences for kinship carers both across, and even sometimes within, local authorities.
What should happen next
Given the evidence outlined in the National Kinship Care Strategy about the significance a consistent financial allowance has for families, their outcomes, and recent insight into the motivations and barriers around progressing to special guardianship or a child arrangements order, we believe there is already a strong case for the Government to introduce a mandatory financial allowance for all kinship carers across all local authorities. Our #ValueOurLove campaign will continue to push for this.
It is vital that the pathfinder does not paralyse progress towards a wider rollout; it must come with clear scale points which respond to emerging evidence. It is welcome the Government intends to explore expanding eligibility to broader cohorts and all local authorities in the future, but further work can be done now to ensure a final evaluation due in 2028 at the very earliest isn’t the only determining factor in whether this happens or not.
Local authorities should continue to move towards leading practice on the provision of financial support for kinship carers which includes the provision of non means tested allowances. Given the Government’s recognition of how financial allowances can improve outcomes for families and for local authority budgets, they should continue to encourage local authorities not participating in the pathfinder to improve their policies and support offers. This should include a commitment to updating and strengthening special guardianship guidance alongside the new kinship care statutory guidance to clarify what good practice and expectations are around the calculation and delivery of financial allowances.
In addition, the Government should ensure all kinship carers can access other elements of financial support which can better support family life, such as free childcare. Currently, some kinship families can be unfairly locked out of existing childcare support schemes (e.g. 15 hours free childcare for 2 year olds) where there isn’t a legal order securing the family arrangement and when the child wasn’t previously in local authority care. The expansion of free childcare hours announced in the 2023 Spring Budget could help more kinship families access childcare, but using the same eligibility criteria as the current scheme for 3 and 4 year olds will continue to miss many of those families who need this the most, although making support for childcare costs in Universal Credit available up front is welcome.
The Government should also work with local authorities to ensure kinship carers can access the emergency financial support they need right now, particularly as the cost of living crisis continues to have a significant impact on families across the country. Our Breaking Point report found that 1 in 10 kinship households had run out of food and couldn’t afford to buy more in the last two weeks. Existing special guardianship guidance is very clear that “financial issues should not be the sole reason for a special guardianship arrangement failing to survive”. Whilst ongoing work to explore a financial allowance is crucial to deliver long-term financial security, too many families are in poverty today. As such, the Government should consider additional targeted funding for kinship families and others supported by children’s social care services, particularly where there is an identified risk to permanence or of family breakdown.
Kinship care leave
New guidance for employers has been introduced but no plans are in place for additional workplace entitlements for kinship carers.
Alongside the National Kinship Care Strategy, the Government delivered new guidance for employers on how they can support kinship carers at work. This sets out best practice for supporting kinship carers at work, including how to adapt internal HR policies and improve cultures of support. It encourages employers to take steps to better support their kinship carer employees, and signposts Kinship’s own Kinship Friendly Employer scheme.
The Department for Education has also committed to introducing their own pay and leave offer for their kinship carer staff. Further details on scope and eligibility are yet to be determined.
Earlier this year, the Government’s Stable Homes, Built on Love strategy committed to “explore additional workplace entitlements” for kinship carers and provide an update in the National Kinship Care Strategy. Therefore, it’s particularly disappointing that no further commitments have been made in the Strategy to introduce a right to statutory pay and leave for kinship carers and provide the crucial employment support which kinship carers need, as called for by our #ValueOurLove campaign.
Our Forced Outreport, published in June 2023, revealed that more than 8 in 10 kinship carers had been forced to give up work permanently or reduce their hours after taking on the care of a child, unnecessarily pushing valuable workers out of the labour market and plunging kinship families into poverty. A period of paid leave would not only allow carers to better support children and give them the time they need to settle into their new family environment, but would also create financial stability for kinship families and prevent carers from having to leave the labour market unnecessarily. It would also ensure vital nurses, teachers and support workers are kept active in our hospitals, schools and communities.
The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care also recommended that paid leave on a par with adoption leave should be introduced for special guardians and kinship carers with a child arrangements order where the child would otherwise be in care, and a similar recommendation was also made by the House of Lords Children and Families Act 2014 Committee.
We’re pleased to see the Government’s new guidance for employers signpost to our own Kinship Friendly Employer scheme. This will help encourage employers to grow awareness of and support for kinship carers in their workplace, and backs up the Government’s suggestion made in Stable Homes, Built on Love that “businesses can ask themselves whether they have employment policies in place to support kinship carers”. We have already seen large employers such as Tesco announce plans to introduce paid leave for their kinship carer employees.
What should happen next
We want to see the Department for Business and Trade work closely with the Department for Education and make a commitment to introducing paid kinship care leave in the future.
Introducing kinship care leave would also align extremely well with wider Government initiatives to support people with parental and caring responsibilities to remain in the workplace when they would like to, including the ‘day one’ right to request flexible working and the introduction of leave entitlements for other specific groups as specified in the 2023 Spring Budget. Plans were announced in the Autumn Statement 2023 to reform the ‘fit note’ process to increase the number of people in work, but given that kinship carers are more likely than parents and other groups raising children to be disabled or have long term sickness which prevents them from working, these changes risk financially penalising them and by extension their children.
Family Network Pilots should include testing of how local authorities can support kinship carers with navigating changes to their employment, such as compensating for lost hours at work and helping with securing more flexible working arrangements. This will be particularly important for informal kinship carers who do not have a legal order securing their family arrangement and may not benefit directly from future statutory entitlements to paid leave.
At Kinship, we will continue our work engaging with employers to develop our Kinship Friendly Employers scheme and encourage organisations to adopt paid leave and other supportive policies ahead of potential future rights for kinship carers, building on the success of early adopters such as Tesco, John Lewis Partnership and Card Factory. Many kinship carers who might not benefit from a statutory paid leave policy on a par with adoption leave would still be well-served by greater understanding of and support with other workplace entitlements, including the option of shorter periods of leave, altered working hours or more flexible working arrangements.
Training and support for kinship carers
A new national offer of training and support for all kinship carers will begin in Spring 2024, and funding for peer support groups will continue.
In Stable Homes, Built on Love the Government committed to investing in the delivery of a national offer of support and training for all kinship carers, commencing from Spring 2024. After a competitive tender process, Kinship has been awarded a contract, worth £3m, by the Department for Education, to develop a training and support programme for all kinship carers in England. This contract will see Kinship lead a national programme delivering online and in-person training, supported by resources on Kinship Compass, the online information, advice and support hub for kinship carers which launched in April 2023.
The National Kinship Care Strategy also celebrates Kinship’s work to establish more than 130 peer support groups across England as part of the National Peer Support Programme and the role of the groups in building community and relationships for kinship carers. It commits to investing up to £1.8 million over the next two years to ensure these groups, available to all types of kinship carer, continue to operate; a new tender for this has now been published for a contract due to commence in July 2024.
The Department for Education also funds the Family and Friends helpline.
The Government’s commitment to introduce a national training and support offer reflected a significant win for our #ValueOurLove campaign which had called on the Government to equalise access to high-quality training and support between kinship carers and foster carers. It also followed a recommendation from the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care that all local authorities should develop peer support and training for all kinship carers.
Delivery of a national offer of training, advice and information should help to deliver consistent and high-quality help for kinship carers of all types, and reduce the current postcode lottery of provision. This is crucial as only 2 in 10 kinship carers told us they’d received any preparation support before or shortly after their child moved in, and nearly 8 in 10 said they weren’t getting the local authority support they needed to meet their child’s needs. Of those who had received local authority support, 25% rated this as ‘very poor’.
A lack of independent advice, especially at the point of becoming a kinship carer, can leave kinship carers vulnerable to being exploited and unsure about the best option for them to pursue to support their new family. The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has highlighted previously how special guardians were sometimes given incorrect advice and information by their local authorities.
Our Breaking Point report found that 35% of kinship carers rated the information provided about kinship care by their local authority as ‘very poor’, and only 7% had ever seen their authority’s ‘family and friends care policy’. It’s welcome that new statutory guidance on kinship care will reinforce the requirement for local authorities to publish a clear and accessible approach to how they support all kinship families. This is important as, highlighted by Foundations in their recent survey of local authority support, “kinship carers may commit to care arrangements that limit their access to support without being aware of these implications”.
What should happen next
We’re excited to prepare to deliver the new national training and support offer for kinship carers. This programme will be co-designed alongside kinship carers and will be made available to all kinship carers in England regardless of legal order. It will provide kinship carers with preparatory support at the beginning of their kinship care journey, as well as options for ongoing support. Partners who will play a key role in working with Kinship and kinship carers to design and deliver online and offline sessions to support carers at different points of their kinship care journeys will include the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH), BookTrust, Anna Freud, Place2Be and Kinship Carers Liverpool.
We’ll be sharing more details about the national training and support offer in due course and will be looking forward to working with local authorities across England. In the meantime, we encourage all children’s social care professionals to join our Professionals Network, and for Directors of Children’s Services and Managers of Children’s Social Care Services to get in touch to explore ways to work together.
In the meantime, local authorities should ensure they signpost to Kinship Compass and other sources of information and advice for kinship carers. They should ensure their websites promote a clear, accessible and regularly-updated policy outlining their approach to supporting kinship families, including those without a legal order securing the family arrangement.
Family justice and legal aid
No plans are in place to extend legal aid for kinship carers.
From 1 May 2023, legal aid changes which extend eligibility for those pursuing special guardianship orders in private family law came into force following a commitment made by the Ministry of Justice in 2019.
The terms of reference of the Review of Civil Legal Aid note that scope and eligibility of legal aid are not within its remit.
The Law Commission has agreed to undertake a review of the legal framework for kinship carers and whether the current landscape across England and Wales is fit for purpose. Project details confirm this will include how current orders, including child arrangements orders and special guardianship orders, are working for kinship carers and the potential for reform of such orders in the kinship care context, including “considering the possibility of a new bespoke order for this situation”.
The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommended that legal aid should be provided to kinship carers in a range of circumstances, but no further action has been taken by Government in the National Kinship Care Strategy despite an earlier commitment to explore “options for an extension of legal aid for carers with SGOs and CAOs”. This is significantly disappointing given the clear need for improved legal advice and support for kinship carers.
Closing gaps in the provision of initial free and independent advice and legal aid support between kinship carers involved in securing different legal orders across both public and private law is crucial; evidence shows how there is significant overlap with public law and local authority involvement within private law cases, but the support available to kinship families during and afterwards is often dictated by the legal arrangement and route taken.
For some kinship carers, choosing a private law route may be a deliberate and conscious decision, but too many others are poorly advised and pushed down this expensive and often challenging route without understanding the short- and long-term support implications for them and their children. Local authority support for kinship carers is often unavailable for those who have an arrangement secured by an order made in private proceedings.
What should happen next
The Government should work closely with the Ministry of Justice and commit to extending legal aid to a wider group of kinship carers. This should include reform to unlock independent legal advice for prospective kinship carers considering a legal order, funding for family and friends pursuing a legal order in either public or private law proceedings, and protection from costly litigation for existing kinship carers taken back to court by birth parents at a later date.
Additional legal aid entitlements should be non-means tested to ensure all kinship carers can make the best possible decisions in the interests of children and are not pushed into financial insecurity. Means testing can particularly penalise groups such as older kinship carers who may have some pension or other savings, or assets in the form of owned property they have spent years paying off a mortgage towards, but who have very low incomes and accessible capital with which to pay legal costs associated with becoming a kinship carer and establishing permanence for a child.
These extensions would be strengthened further by ensuring kinship carers have a right to a role in legal proceedings where there is potential that they could become a kinship carer; the family justice system should recognise kinship carers in public and private care proceedings and seek to involve kinship carers and children in an accessible way, where appropriate, and consider how orders made in private family law could impact negatively on the resultant support available to carers and their children.
We would like to see colleagues in the family court demonstrate curiosity and take steps during private proceedings to ensure any kinship carers pursuing orders through private law proceedings are aware of their options and understand the implications involved. We would also like to see the Law Commission examine the private vs public route distinction and the impact this has on the experiences and resultant support and outcomes for kinship families in its welcome forthcoming review of the legal framework for kinship care.
Support for children in kinship care
The Virtual School Heads role will be extended to include children in kinship care.
Previously: ❤️ (December 2023)
The National Kinship Care Strategy has committed to extending the remit of Virtual School Heads to include children in kinship care via a £3.8 million investment over 2024-5. This extension is twofold: new guidance will encourage Virtual Schools Heads as part of their existing responsibilities to champion educational attendance, attainment and progress of all children in kinship care, regardless of arrangement; and the Virtual Schools’ specific responsibilities re: providing advice and information will be extended to special guardians and those with child arrangements order regardless of whether or not the child was in care.
The National Kinship Care Strategy also notes ongoing work to update national standards and statutory guidance for the provision of children’s advocacy services will consider eligible children and young people in kinship care (e.g. looked after children or children in need) to help them understand their rights and entitlements.
Children in kinship care have been largely absent from discussion of kinship care reform; neither the Government’s earlier Stable Homes, Built on Love strategy nor the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care considered what needed to change for kinship children directly. This is despite evidence showing how their needs and experiences are typically very similar to those who enter local authority care. Our #ValueOurLove campaign has therefore been crucial in pushing the Government to rectify this and ensure children in kinship care get the emotional and educational support they need to heal and thrive.
We’re delighted to see the Government has listened to the voices of thousands of kinship carers who have campaigned for improved support for their children at school. The expansion of the Virtual School Heads role will help create new opportunities for improved understanding and support for kinship children in education, and we look forward to sharing insight from our work with Leeds Virtual School and the National Association of Virtual School Heads (NAVSH) to ensure this expansion makes a difference for kinship families.
What should happen next
We want to see the Government go much further and commit to a full extension of Virtual School support to all children in kinship care, including eligibility for Pupil Premium Plus, and to ensure the School Admissions Code prioritises admissions for children in kinship care. This would recognise that all kinship children – regardless of whether or not there is a legal order securing their arrangement – are eligible to get extra funding and support to help them attend, attain and progress in school.
Further research must be undertaken to better understand children in kinship care and their carers’ views on the support they would like and how this can be best offered, conscious of the unique position of kinship care and the perspectives of children on their identities and family life. Whilst the evidence suggests that many children in kinship care would benefit from improved access to support across health and education, the complex routes in and through kinship care – and the impact this has on children’s identity and families’ relationships with the local authority and other services – may not warrant an identical approach to provision and oversight as with other groups.
The Children’s Commissioner for England should have particular regard for all children in kinship care and work to uphold their rights. Whilst the provision of formalised independent advocacy may be appropriate for children in some situations (e.g. during care proceedings), and it is welcome that the Government will ensure their situations are considered where eligible for advocacy, given kinship children’s heightened risk of having their rights infringed and evidence of similar levels of adversity in childhood, there is a clear rationale for all children in kinship care to be given appropriate consideration by the Children’s Commissioner in the discharge of the role’s primary function. They are more likely to face significant vulnerabilities and to benefit from a statutory body who can ensure their rights are upheld and their voices considered in government policymaking.
Continued engagement must also include listening and acting on the views of children growing up in kinship care; their perspectives and views are far less well understood and evidenced in the literature than for other groups supported by children’s social care, despite some limited examples of welcome research.
There is some evidence which demonstrates that children in kinship care are less likely to progress to and succeed in further and higher education. Post-18 support for children in kinship care is practically non-existent; our 2021 annual survey found that only 3% of kinship carers had been offered support for their young adult kinship children, despite often significant ongoing needs. While statutory and wider provision is rightly made to provide financial help and other support to care leavers who go to higher education, it is very unclear to young people in kinship care how they might qualify for such help and/or whether they are eligible. The Office for Students, The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), Student Finance England, Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and higher education institutions themselves should work together to align, clarify and highlight advice to prospective students, so that young people in kinship care can readily see what help financial and otherwise is available for them.
Therapeutic support for kinship families
The Adoption Support Fund has been rebranded as the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund.
The Adoption Support Fund has been renamed as the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund with the stated intention to increase applications from eligible kinship families (those with special guardianship or child arrangements orders where the child was previously looked after). This is because, despite more children leaving care to special guardianship than adoption each year since 2019, successful applications for special guardianship families reflect only 13% of those across the entire Fund.
The Government has also committed in the National Kinship Care Strategy to commissioning new research to explore applications and therapies provided as part of the Fund to see how it is used (or not) by kinship families, with a view to informing further development.
The renaming of the Adoption Support Fund is a step in the right direction, but also neglects to include those with child arrangements orders where the child was previously looked after who are also eligible. This solution in isolation also represents a misdiagnosis of the problem which sees eligible kinship families not accessing therapeutic support through the Fund. Our advice and support work with kinship carers reveals the more significant challenges many have in ensuring their local authority or Regional Adoption Agency completes an application. Too many find social workers themselves aren’t confident in nor have the time to submit an application, and even when an assessment is carried out and some support offered, agreed providers often don’t have the knowledge and understanding of kinship care to deliver support tailored to the unique needs and circumstances of kinship families. Further research into applications and use of the Fund by kinship carers is therefore welcome.
Ultimately, the Adoption Support Fund is designed with adoptive families in mind – a rebranding exercise risks setting up more kinship families to fail if they learn about the Fund, but soon find their local authority unaware, unwilling or unable to help secure appropriate therapeutic support.
Recent evaluation of the Adoption Support Fund found that both awareness levels and the extent to which the Fund was seen to have positively helped carers and their children were lower amongst special guardians than for adoptive parents. The Review of the Adoption Support Fund COVID-19 Scheme also suggested that “SGO families may need a different approach, particularly to marketing support for them”.
What should happen next
We will continue to push for a bespoke version of the Fund designed for kinship families, recognising the unique nature of kinship care and respecting the different approaches often needed between adoptive and kinship families. This is vital given the urgent need to improve the support offered to kinship families to manage children’s social, emotional and behavioural difficulties; our Breaking Point report found that 12% of kinship carers worried about their ability to continue caring for their children, and 4 in 10 of those highlighted a lack of support for behavioural and mental health challenges as a reason for this concern.
A new fund should expand eligibility to include all kinship families, not just those secured with a legal order and where the child was previously in care, and also broaden the scope of available support to include non-therapeutic help where this would be of significant benefit to children and their carers. Above all, support for kinship families should take a ‘whole family’ approach which recognises and supports families as a unit – including birth children of the kinship carer, for example – to navigate the complexities and dynamics of the family as a whole.
Children in kinship care would also benefit from a right to a mental health assessment on entry into kinship care to support quicker diagnosis and referral for support where required, as available to children in local authority care.
Specific attention should also be paid by local authorities in how to best to support contact; although enduring family relationships can be one of the best things about kinship care, contact with parents can also be experienced as challenging, uncertain and potentially damaging for children and young people growing up in kinship care.
Improving local authority practice
New statutory guidance, a National Kinship Care Ambassador and Ofsted training aim to enhance local authority practice in kinship care.
The Government has committed to delivering new statutory guidance on kinship care in Spring 2024, titled ‘Kinship Care: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities’. This will replace existing Family and Friends Care guidance last updated in 2011 and will seek to improve standards and consistency in local authority practice.
Outcome 2 of the Government’s Children’s Social Care National Framework (children and young people are supported by their family network) sets out how leaders and practitioners should strive to ensure this outcomes is met in their practice. Stable Homes, Built on Love outlined plans to introduce Practice Guides which aim to set out the best evidenced approaches for achieving the outcomes set within the National Framework.
The National Kinship Care Strategy notes that Ofsted inspectors will receive additional bespoke training around kinship care and that Ofsted have committed to reviewing published guidance to ensure references to kinship care are clear and that local authorities’ strengths and weaknesses in kinship care practice are captured in their inspection reports.
A new National Kinship Care Ambassador will be appointed in Spring 2024. Based on the model of the National Implementation Adviser for Care Leavers, their responsibility will be to support local authorities to improve their own support offers to kinship families in line with the Government’s children’s social care reforms, share leading practice across local authorities, and act in a ‘consultancy’ role to help raise standards in social work and local authority practice.
The National Kinship Care Strategy also notes that ongoing Government work to introduce a new Early Career Framework for social workers will set out the skills and knowledge needed to support kinship families well, and that practitioners will be supported to share best practice around kinship care through events and forums, including in areas such as carer identification and assessment.
New statutory guidance is welcome; current guidance is outdated and fails to capture the current policy context and focus on kinship care. It is particularly welcome this will reaffirm expectations that every local authority publishes an accessible and regularly-updated policy setting out its approach to supporting all kinship families; 35% of kinship carers recently rated the information provided by their local authority as ‘very poor’ and only 7% said they had never seen their local authority’s existing policy.
It is good to see a commitment within the National Kinship Care Strategy to introduce new training for Ofsted inspectors. This should ensure they can scrutinise and investigate local authorities’ support and practice around kinship care more effectively; this must be reflected clearly and visibly in their inspection reports. However, it’s unfortunate that the Strategy doesn’t go much further to consider the inspectorate given the role Ofsted play in supporting and challenging local authority practice with kinship families.
It’s very welcome to see the Government recognise it has a role in supporting and improving local authority practice directly too. We agree with the Government’s ambition articulated in Stable Homes, Built on Love that social workers should “feel confident to prioritise family-led solutions for children.”
Whilst we welcome the new National Kinship Care Ambassador, unlike other areas of children’s social care (such as leaving care support), practice in kinship care is less well developed and approaches vary considerably between – and even within – different local authorities. Our research has identified some of the key challenges and considerations for specialist social work practice in kinship care; some are delivering pioneering work which recognises the specific needs and strengths of kinship families whereas others are struggling to deliver the very basics. There is a risk the new Ambassador role’s power is muted in the context of local authorities operating without the capacity, space nor expertise to embed new ways of working, and particularly given the extreme workforce and financial pressures in children’s social care.
What should happen next
New statutory guidance on kinship care must retain the original guidance’s direction that services should not be allocated solely on the basis of the child’s legal status nor withheld because the child is living under an informal arrangement.
We want to see Ofsted significantly enhance the attention paid to kinship care practice and support within its inspections and undertake a thematic review of its inspection reports to support this work, and will continue to encourage Ofsted to consider establishing a separate judgement for kinship care within its inspection framework for local authority children’s services, similar to the recent (re)introduction of this for care leavers. This would align the inspection framework with the new National Framework, giving sufficient weight to considerations around kinship care and supporting family networks.
We look forward to working with the Kinship Care Ambassador to ensure the insight from our work in partnership with local authorities helps more children’s services teams deliver the kind of practice which kinship carers want to see. The role should have a strong focus on ensuring all local authorities deliver the essentials well, with priorities aligned to key objectives with the strategy and reaffirmed requirements within the updated statutory guidance, and support local authorities to involve kinship carers in building better practice cultures and offers of support.
The Practice Guides expected as part of the National Framework should be built on existing research and evidence in supporting kinship carers, such as work commissioned by the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board including ‘Key elements of a special guardianship support service’ and ‘Developing good practice in financially supporting special guardians’. They should also address some of the challenges highlighted by specialist social workers who practice in kinship care, especially given its unique mix of skills and knowledge which draw from elements of both child protection and mainstream fostering practice. This includes improving social workers’ delivery of high-quality support plans tailored to the unique needs of each child, and in offering advice or help with parental contact – this can be particularly difficult for kinship families to navigate given existing very complex and challenging family relationships and especially in the context of adversarial court processes.
Where these do not exist already, local authorities should consider establishing specialist kinship teams with the breadth of skills necessary to deliver high-quality social work support; this should be encouraged by Government and the National Kinship Care Ambassador. Many local authorities have already developed specialist teams who are delivering pioneering support for kinship carers, and Kinship and others offer existing forums which bring together professionals to share good practice and learn from each other.
The National Practice Group should be extended to include additional representation from those with expertise in kinship care, including from lived and professional experience, that matches the strength of the commitment to supporting family networks within the National Framework and the National Kinship Care Strategy.