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Does the new implementation strategy go far enough for kinship carers and their families?

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The Government has gone beyond some Care Review recommendations and responded to consultation and campaigning in its implementation strategy, Children's social care: Stable Homes, Built on Love. But while the focus and recognition of kinship care is welcome, overall, the response falls short of the Care Review’s ambitious plans for an overhaul of children’s social care.

A National Kinship Strategy will be published by the end of 2023 which “will look at issues such as educational entitlements, training and improving local authority practice - as well as updating on reform activity such as exploring financial allowances.” Our members’ views need to be heard to ensure that this is a meaningful strategy for kinship carers and those working with them. The consultation is open until 11 May which gives plenty of time for local authorities to respond and advocate for lasting change.

Alongside the national strategy there are plans for Families First for Children Pathfinders – 12 local areas that will trial and evaluate new ways of working. The Pathfinders will focus on a model of Early Help, including an expectation that family and friends are considered at the earliest opportunity.

There will also be a consultation on a definition of kinship care, which highlights the current lack of status for some forms of kinship care. What remains unclear is whether an accepted and legal definition would provide a passport for additional services for kinship carers and the children in their care, such as those set out in Time To Define Kinship Care.

The implementation strategy makes clear that “Kinship carers should not have to become foster carers, and children should not become looked after, in order to stay together.” Kinship carers need clarity and certainty about the services and support they will be entitled to. A legal definition could provide this. Children in kinship care arrangements often have the same needs as children in unrelated foster care, and not being a child in care should not be a barrier to accessing the necessary support.

Other areas will be further explored, including “mandating a financial allowance” for all kinship carers who have a Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangements Order. The document references creative use of section 17 budgets to support kinship families but does not indicate whether a mandatory financial allowance would be centrally funded or the responsibility of each local authority. Clarity is needed as to how any future reforms and additional duties will be adequately funded. We believe a statutory allowance will provide more security and stability for kinship families and we urge local authorities to work to provide the business case analysis to support this important change.

Alongside uncertainty around funding beyond the next two years, there are several references to legislative change being “subject to parliamentary time”. With a general election expected next year parliamentary time is likely to be in short supply. The lack of long-term commitment to the call for once-in-a-generation reform has been voiced in the sector. What happens once the two-year pilot schemes are concluded, and could these pilot schemes further exacerbate the postcode lottery of support for kinship carers?

The implementation strategy also highlights the need to recruit and retain more foster carers and all foster carers will receive an increase in their fostering allowance of over 12%. However, while very welcome for foster carers, this increase does not appear to be extended to kinship foster carers, who care for children with similar experiences of loss and trauma to children in care. We believe it should be applied to kinship carers too.

£9 million will be invested “in a bespoke training and support offer for all kinship carers (those with a legal order and informal kinship carers).” Again, this is excellent news for kinship carers, but the devil will be in the detail. Will local authorities automatically have access to external support or will they be supported to develop their own training and support packages?

We urge all our members to respond to the consultation which will close on 11 May 2023. This is our chance to have our views heard and incorporated into the implementation plans. Now is not the time for complacency. Now is the time to capitalise on the significant progress that has been made in recognising the importance of kinship care.

We will continue to consult with our members through our advisory committee and practice forums. Join us at our Kinship Care Practice Forum meeting on 1 March where Dan Foster, Head of Alternatives to Care & Kinship, Department for Education, will be joining us. It will be your opportunity to hear more about the latest proposals and ask questions about future plans.

Clare Seth, Kinship Consultant, CoramBAAF