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Reflections on care planning in the kinship context

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During Members Week 2023, we ran a webinar exploring some of the unique challenges and complexities of care planning in kinship care. We delivered a whistle stop tour through some of the challenges in early identification of prospective carers, assessing kinship carers in the context of court and panel, and permanency planning for children – and some of the potential solutions. Below are some reflections from us following the event and answers to some of the questions that were raised.

Care planning is a key part of our role as social workers, but it is not always a linear journey. In our view, this is particularly the case in the context of kinship care. As social workers, when we are concerned about the welfare of a child, we try to empower and support parents to make the necessary changes. Working in partnership, involving a wider family and other people important to the child in building safety for them should be key in our planning and decision-making.    

Despite the welcome spotlight on kinship care currently, particularly on how kinship families can be better supported, there is more to be done to ensure they have a positive experience of local authority intervention in their lives. We know there are some great examples of local authorities really thinking about their kinship social work practice. But we also know there are some local authorities who are hampered in their efforts due to team structures, lack of resources, or lack of head space to do the strategic thinking that’s needed. We are hopeful the National Kinship Care Strategyand the upcoming revision of the 2011 Family and Friends Care Statutory Guidance will provide more of a roadmap to getting there.

Local authorities work hard to ensure that kinship care is prioritised as the potential care plan for a child. Prospective kinship carers are already part of the family system when we are working with a child and their family. It can be a confusing landscape, with sometimes complex family narratives, relationships and histories that don’t necessarily conform or fit with social work processes and tasks. As social workers, we need to bend and lean into the family system, to work collaboratively and in partnership, not require families to do the work to fit those processes and procedures.

We have included some of the questions that were raised during the webinar and provided some useful links below:

Family Group Conferences (FGCs)

What was the percentage of FGCs that were used in pre-proceedings?

Harwin et al. (2019) in a case file study found that FGCs were held for 37% of 107 children placed with special guardian families. In another study of care proceedings, Masson et al. (2019) found 79 cases (39% of the sample of care proceedings) were known to have had an FGC or family meeting take place.” Randomised controlled trial of Family Group Conferencing at Pre-Proceedings Stage (page 15).

Is there any written guidance for birth relatives?  

Family Rights Group provide detailed information for families about the family group conference process. From a basic explanation of what a family group conference is, to what the process involves, what can be done with a family plan and family group conference standards. 

There are also film clips that can be shared with family members.  

Do you think that strategic planning within children’s services have taken on board the positive impact of FGC with better investment in FGC provision to ensure they have the capacity to meet need? 

The extent to which children’s services have taken on board the positive impact of family group conferences is unclear. Whilst there has been a gradual growth in the use of family group conferences, with about 82% of English authorities now having a family group conference service, many of those are still only reaching a small proportion of families that may benefit.  

CASCADE at Cardiff University in partnership with Family Rights Group undertook a survey of local authorities which demonstrated that 59% of those surveyed said their family group conference service had expanded in the last three years. One of the best examples of a local authority taking on board the positive benefits of widespread investment in FGCs is Leeds. Their expansion of the family group conference offer led to significant reductions in the numbers of children in the care system, and the cost savings estimated as £755 per family.  

The Government’s families first for children pathfinder programme will look at how to reduce barriers to family networks playing a more active role in providing homes for children, and this includes use of family group decision-making. This may explore what children’s services need to do strategically to increase the use of FGC’s and/or other forms of family group decision- making.  


Does the Family Network Support Packages (FNSPs) include anything other than finance? 

The pathfinder programme is also exploring the impact of FNSPs in the family networks pilot. The Department of Education has stated that FNSP money is ring-fenced, separate from section 17 and therefore not for direct support to parents. They have said that FNSPs could cover for example transport costs to enable a family member to offer practical support, to cover some loss of earnings or to provide funding for home modifications. They hope Family Network Support Packages can be creative and respond to individual family needs. We hope to be able to update members once there is feedback from the pilot local authorities.    

Where is the evidence about fostering panels being risk averse? 

Joan Hunt’s research acknowledges some of the challenges that social workers experience when seeking approval of kinship foster carers, but also that there has been a significant shift and awareness of the need for kinship foster carers to be well supported.  

Other research notes that panel members holding unrealistic expectations about first-time adopters and new foster carers has negative consequences on their approach and attitude towards assessing kinship and foster care applications. As we highlighted in the webinar, the emphasis should be on clear support planning so that fostering panels feel reassured that carers will receive the support they need and that therefore any vulnerabilities will be mitigated against.  

What about the use of the Adoption Support Fund?  

Evaluations of the Adoption Support Fund indicate only between 10% - 13% of the Adoption Support Fund provides support for special guardians and the children in their care. We believe the Adoption Support Fund needs to be better promoted to ensure those kinship carers that are eligible know about and can make use of the fund. In parallel, there needs to be more support and training for social workers to enable assessments of support need and applications to the ASF to be completed in a timely way. The ASF can enable kinship families to access a range of therapeutic support, such as individual therapy and counselling for children, for example play, art or drama therapy, life story work, dyadic developmental psychotherapy and therapeutic parenting for the carers.

Please join us at our next Kinship Care Practice Forum for further opportunities to discuss these questions and many more!  

Clare Seth and Ann Horne, Kinship Consultants, CoramBAAF