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Kinship Care Week 2022: So much still needs to change

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Last week was Kinship Care Week. To keep up the momentum for change following the Care Review, CoramBAAF and Research in Practice held a joint event to focus on kinship care. We heard from various speakers, including kinship carers themselves. We reflected on whether the recommendations in the Care Review are enough, and we explored what needs to change to improve experiences for kinship families.

Professor Joan Hunt has been researching issues around kinship care for over 20 years and is well placed to reflect on whether the recommendations could change the patterns of significant unmet need that research has identified in the support for kinship families. Her conclusion is that the recommendations are “good, but not enough”.   Whilst she acknowledged the many positives, and described the call for a new legal definition a “major step forward”, she also identified the gaps. She spoke about the lack of detail in describing what a minimum level of support to kinship carers needs to look like, and compared this to Time To Define Kinship Care (Family Rights Group) and Out of the Shadows (Kinship). She highlighted the lack of focus on workforce development, saying that understanding about kinship care needs to extend beyond specialist kinship workers to children’s social workers but also other agencies such as health and education.

We heard from Lucy Peake, CEO of Kinship, who talked about the urgent need for kinship families to receive financial support, stating it is a “frightening time” to be a kinship carer, with the cost of living rising and many receiving little or no financial support. In Kinship’s recent annual financial survey, 93% of respondents were concerned about how they will cope with rising costs. Together with the Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board, Kinship recently published a Good Practice Guide for local authorities on how to support special guardians financially, and the clear business case that can be made around ‘spend to save’.

Susannah Bowyer from Research in Practice shared tools and research to support social work practice with kinship families, and highlighted the importance of Family Group Conferences to enable families to be meaningfully involved in finding solutions when family members are struggling with caring for children.

Perhaps most importantly, we heard from kinship carers themselves. One kinship carer Michelle, had a positive experience of the support from her local authority kinship care team. She spoke about the joys but also the challenges of taking on the care of her granddaughter. Her social worker “was always there at the end of the telephone”, supported her with family relationships and plans for family time, and helped her understand the legal and social work processes. She also received financial support that enabled her to give up work to care for her granddaughter.

But we also heard from Enza and Shanayd, who had less positive experiences. Enza took us on an emotional and powerful journey as we walked in her shoes, and tried to imagine the loss, pain, and impact she and her husband experienced on their lifestyle, finances and family, throughout their journeys as kinship carers to their two grandchildren. Enza’s poor experiences of support galvanized her into setting up the charity Kinship Carers UK to try and provide the much-needed information and support to other kinship carers, that she herself struggled to access. Whilst Shanayd has built positive relationships with professionals more recently, and acknowledged the improvements her local authority are making to improve support for kinship families, she has had to make formal complaints and become involved as a peer volunteer, to make sure change happens. Shanayd also powerfully described the racism her family experienced when fighting to keep her niece in the family.

Despite working as a professional with kinship families for 14 years, these stories never fail to make me feel humbled by their love and commitment, but also ever more determined to ensure that change is achieved.

The event helped us reflect on what change can look like now, what we need change to look like when recommendations from the Care Review are implemented, and why change is needed so that more kinship carers can have the positive experience of support like Michelle.  It’s crucial that we keep up the momentum for change and the questions and concerns of the kinship community can be addressed.


Ann Horne, Kinship Care Consultant, CoramBAAF