Sometimes things happen which restore your faith in human nature. Take lib dem conference for example. No, not the Teather/Clegg/Cable headline-grabbing stuff but the policy debate that happened on Saturday afternoon. Lib dems voted overwhelmingly to back leave entitlements for kinship carers. They also called for children in kinship care to have the same access to services and support as foster carers and adoptive parents. So, thanks to former Age Concern CEO Gordon Lishman and Burnley Lib Dems this is now official party policy. What does this mean? Well, if it were to be implemented we would see kinship carers having a job to go back to if they step in to raise a child. Grandparents Plus research has found that 47% give up work when they take on the care of a child. That’s about 60,000 or so dropping out of the labour market or 9,000 each year.
We’d also see children living in kinship care having access to the same services and support as children in unrelated foster care. This is important because research shows that the needs of these two groups of children are similar, yet fostered children are far more likely to have access to services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and also to financial support. Statutory guidance states that support should follow the needs of the child but the truth is it doesn’t.
Evidence shows that kinship carers have extensive needs themselves with 7 in 10 stressed, depressed or isolated. In our most recent survey 80% said they found raising kinship children more challenging than raising their own but just 8% had had any help with parenting or counselling.
Despite all of this however, outcomes for the majority of children in kinship care tend to be good, and certainly better than those for children in the care system. Significantly, recent research has found that it is not the type of placement that is the main factor here but the longevity of it. In other words, it’s about stability and continuity of care. So there isn’t one type of placement that is better than all others but rather it’s about finding the right permanency option for children. This would suggest that the more we can do to support those placements, perhaps offer parenting or managing parental contact workshops to kinship carers or access to counselling for bereaved children, or financial support for those who need it, we might be giving them a better chance of success. That’s got to be in the best interests of children. But also of society and the tax payer too. So a victory for common sense and a further step on the road to recognition for kinship carers at lib dem conference. And who said politicians were all the same?
Update – proposals from Labour’s Older Women’s Commission would see kinship carers entitled to unpaid adjustment leave which they could take when a child first moves in. This would give them time to have some breathing space while they worked out what was going on and what they needed to do next. The Commission haven’t gone as far as recommending paid leave though, we will keep working on them!