On 15 December the Government published the first ever National Kinship Care Strategy for England. The new Strategy is a landmark moment for kinship carers and all who have been fighting for change. The strategy contains a lot of information so we’ve broken it down to help you understand what might be changing for you and your family, where you can find more information, and how you can get involved.
What is a Government strategy and what difference will it make?
A Government strategy is a document that outlines the Government’s plans for a particular area of work, usually on a specific subject in a specific department. A Government strategy will usually provide a long-term vision for the future and multiple elements of a roadmap to get to that point.
Government strategies have been enormously influential in other areas of children’s social care policy. For example, the first Adoption Strategy was published in 2016 (which was reviewed in 2021) and has provided a clear and long-term roadmap for promoting best practice in adoption agencies, local authorities, prospective adoptive parents and more. It also outlined the various barriers to adoption and how they should be dismantled.
Strategies can also make a difference for campaigners and we’ve never had a Kinship Care Strategy in England before. Having a set of formal commitments in writing including public spending or other deliverables provides clear hooks for campaigners to continue to champion their cause, both if the commitments themselves don’t go far enough, and if the milestones outlined in a strategy aren’t being met.
What has the #ValueOurLove campaign achieved so far?
The #ValueOurLove campaign has played a significant role in influencing change for kinship carers. When we launched the Campaign in October 2022, we called on the UK Government to commit to a National Kinship Care Strategy which has now been delivered and begins to address and make progress on every key area highlighted by the campaign. This is thanks to the incredible efforts of kinship carers and their supporters who have campaigned for this change, and the strategy alone is a testament to just how hard they have fought, and to their strength and bravery in speaking out about the injustices they are facing.
The #ValueOurLove campaign has been calling on the Government to make four urgent changes to equalise the support available to kinship carers with what is available to adopters and foster families:
- Equalise allowances between foster and kinship families: £16 million investment for first year of a 4-year trial of financial allowances in 8 local authorities.
- Equalise paid leave between adoptive and kinship families: New Government guidance for employers to support kinship carers in the workplace. This guidance is not the commitment to statutory paid leave that we have been pushing for but is an initial step in the right direction and will encourage employers to do what they can to support kinship carers in their workforce.
- Equalise support between children in kinship care and those in care: Initial steps towards addressing the support needs of kinship children including £3.8 million invested in Virtual Schools to expand educational support to children in kinship care
- Equalise access to training and support between kinship carers and foster carers: The Strategy reaffirms this previous commitment to a national training and information offer for all kinship carers and the recent investment in Kinship to deliver this (to begin in 2024).
How will this Kinship Care Strategy affect me?
The National Kinship Care Strategy is for England only.
Some actions may be of relevance to all kinship carers, depending on the policies of individual local authorities or employers. These include:
- Updated guidance for local authorities
- New guidance for employers
- New training and support offer which Kinship will deliver from 2024
Other announcements restrict eligibility to particular groups of kinship carers or kinship families:
- The 4-year trial of financial allowances is only in eight local authorities and for special guardians where the child was previously looked after.
- Although all children in kinship care are included in part of the extension of the Virtual School Head role, only those cared for under a special guardianship or child arrangements order (regardless of whether children were previously looked after) will benefit from an extended advice and information offer from the Virtual School.
- The rebranding of the Adoption Support Fund to the Adoption and Special Guardianship Support Fund does not change eligibility; this continues to only extend only to kinship carers who with a special guardianship or child arrangements order.
This means that most kinship families won’t feel the impact of what is set out in the Strategy anytime soon. We appreciate this will be hugely disappointing for those who wanted to see more support extended to informal kinship carers too given the common needs, strengths, and experiences across all kinship families. This is why our #ValueOurLove campaign has been calling for better support for all kinship families, regardless of legal status. However, if the trial of financial allowances proves the positive impact of real financial support, both for kinship families and for the public purse, there may well be opportunities to see this rolled out more widely in the future.
What is missing from the Kinship Care Strategy?
The #ValueOurLove campaign calls for equal financial, emotional, and practical support for all kinship carers, regardless of legal status or geography, with what is available to foster and adoptive families. While we have seen progress across the board, the National Kinship Care Strategy falls short of what is really needed for kinship carers. The #ValueOurLove campaign will continue to call for:
- Financial allowances for all kinship carers
- Statutory paid leave for kinship carers in employment equal to adoption leave
- Greater support for children, to help them heal and thrive. We want to see a full range of accessible, well-funded therapeutic, educational, and trauma-informed support to give children the tools and the confidence to progress well at school, form healthy relationships, and flourish throughout their lives.
When will the changes announced happen?
Different commitments made within the Strategy have their own expected timings for when further information will be released or when they will begin to be delivered. The Strategy itself has a helpful diagram included on page 55 which outlines the key milestones for reform.
What does the new Strategy mean for kinship families in Wales?
Children’s social care policy is devolved, meaning that most of the National Strategy only affects England. Decisions about children’s social care in Wales are made by the Welsh Government.
Despite this, there are some commitments that could positively impact kinship families in Wales too. In particular, as employment rights policy is not devolved, the guidance aimed at employers announced today will also help those in Wales to improve workplace support for kinship carers in their workforces. The proposed Law Commission’s review of legal orders will also cover both England and Wales.
Further, where developments are made in England to better support Kinship carers, it provides opportunities for us to gather the insights and evidence to call for this support to be introduced in Wales, and for us to use learnings from England to push for change in Wales too. As an organisation we will continue to campaign in Wales for better support for kinship families, and to engage Welsh decision-makers in order to secure these changes.
What is changing for local authorities and the way they support kinship carers? Who is holding them to account?
New ‘Kinship Care: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities’ will be published next year, replacing the existing ‘Family and Friends Care’ guidance. This will strengthen the guidance provided to local authorities to help improve standards and consistency. It will set out clear advice and expectations about what support for kinship families should look like, and remind local authorities that they should publish a policy on supporting kinship families that is clear, accessible, and regularly updated.
Alongside this, a new Kinship care Ambassador will work with local authorities to help them review and improve the support they offer. Part of their role will involve listening to kinship carers to ensure their experiences and views help shape the services and support offered by their local authorities.
Ofsted inspectors will also receive training on kinship care, which will allow them to better scrutinise the way local authorities support kinship carers and hold them accountable for the services they offer.
Why is Kinship delivering parts of the commitments made by Government in the Strategy?
Kinship’s specialist expertise and evidence have been instrumental in supporting the Government prioritising kinship care reform and demonstrating the value of investing in it.
This is recognised in the National Kinship Care Strategy, including in its references to recent investments in Kinship to deliver the National Peer Support Programme and a national training and information offer.
Kinship has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with kinship carers for more than two decades, working to build advice and support services and communities tailored to their unique needs, experiences, and strengths, while campaigning alongside them to secure changes to policy and practice. Our evidence-based programmes, delivered in partnership with local authorities, professionals, researchers, and kinship carers, have developed unparalleled insight and understanding about what works to support kinship families.
What will happen if there is a change of Government following next year’s General Election?
There is strong cross-party support for kinship care reform. With a possible General Election next year (the latest possible date is January 2025) and a new Spending Review coming up, there will be many more opportunities for our #ValueOurLove campaign to secure real change for kinship families.
A Government strategy sits with the Government department responsible for it – here that is the Department for Education. This means that should the political party in Government change after the General Election next year, the National Kinship Care Strategy will remain the guiding document for the new Government. A new Government could change the strategy for the better – it could decide to prioritise kinship care more highly or commit to more investment or shorter timelines for example – but it’s unlikely to get rid of the strategy or substantially limit its scope. MPs from all political parties have shown support, both for kinship care and for the development of this strategy so a General Election is unlikely to negatively affect the commitments made within it.
Will Kinship continue to campaign for change?
Yes. #ValueOurLove calls for support for all kinship carers equal to what is available to adoptive and foster families. While the publication of a National Kinship Care Strategy is a monumental moment, it doesn’t fully address the urgent needs of kinship carers. It has begun to lay the foundation for a future that recognises and values kinship carers. It has unlocked doors that had previously been barred shut to kinship carers, and we will keep fighting to make sure these doors are wide open.
You can join the campaign for change and keep up to date with our activity by adding your name to our petition now.
How can I support the campaign to improve the system for kinship carers?
If you already receive emails from us, you’re all set! The publication of the strategy has rounded off the most recent piece of campaign activity – but don’t worry we’ll be in touch in the New Year with plenty more you can do to make change.
If you don’t already support #ValueOurLove, you can support the campaign today by adding your name to our petition and emailing your MP.
This will sign you up to receive emails about campaign updates and opportunities to take action – for example using an easy online tool to write to a Government official or your MP, asking you to share your experience, or attend campaign training with the Kinship team.
If you are interested in how you can campaign with us locally, please get in touch with Kelly Taylor, Senior Campaigns Officer, who will be happy to have a chat with you about what you can do to influence change in your area.
Videos: What we know so far
Sam, our Head of Policy and Public Affairs, is here to tell you what we know and what we don’t know so far about the recent announcements made in the National Kinship Care Strategy for England.
Financial allowances pathfinder
What will change for local authorities
In a hurry? Here’s our at-a-glance summary of what the National Kinship Care Strategy commits to for kinship families.
Kinship care policy tracker
Interested in the detail? Our policy tracker is here so you can learn more about our verdict and what should happen next.