DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL POLICY AND INTERVENTION Kinship care: need, support and legal status Findings from a new research study The research study Stage 1 Interviews with carers in 95 households (E & W) Recruited through FRG Advice Line (64) & other organisations involved with kinship carers (31). All had been involved w C.Services 23% foster placements; 25% residence order/interim residence order; 27% special guardianship; 21% informal care/private fostering 37 kinship foster placement at some point, not necessarily fully approved. 88 continuing placements of at least one kinship child Stage 2 On-line survey of 493 kinship carers Stage 3 Interviews149 professionals + on-line survey of 100 158 Children’s Services social workers and managers Judges, lawyers, children’s guardians, ISWs, FGC coordinators Challenging children 92% with kin because of substance abuse (60%); abuse or neglect (59%); parental mental illness (28%); or domestic violence (27%). Most had been exposed to multiple adversities likely to compromise their future well-being. 2 in 3 had been subject to a child protection plan 56% of children presented significant levels of difficulty at placement 1 in 3 were still deemed ‘challenging’ at the point interviews were conducted. Only a third were entirely problem free. They have got significant needs, the children are not actually that different from the children who are looked after. They've got that history. They need proper support. (Kinship social worker) My way of seeing it is that they are children in need by the fact of what they will have experienced. (Kinship carers) are getting children who are really damaged and they're coming with emotional baggage. Even though they're in a kinship placement those experience can kick back and it can be manifested later on or sometime down the line, to be quite frank about it. (Front-line social worker) High levels of unmet need; stressed carers 95% of carers identified unmet needs for support for themselves or the child. Few said they had ever had a discussion with Children’s Services about the support they needed 72% rated the support from Children’s Services as poor or very poor. 9% good or excellent. Mean rating 1.7 out of 5. 65% raised stress levels (2x general population). Not affected by length of placement. 60% felt isolated or unsupported Support not correlated with needs of children or carers Statutory Guidance on Family and Friends Care Emphasises that children in kinship care & their carers should receive support, irrespective of the legal status of the arrangement Requires local authorities to produce & publish a policy on family & friends care Specifies the content of the policy Stipulates that each LA must appoint a senior manager with responsibility for the operation of the policy & ensuring staff competent in this area of work. Needs-based support? Professional views 53% of professionals surveyed identified gaps in service provision Only 31% of Children’s Services staff thought their authority was ‘completely’ meeting the requirement in statutory guidance that support should be needs-based. 16% said their LA had ‘a long way to go’ or was ‘nowhere near’. Only 20% of Children’s Services staff thought their LA was ‘completely meeting the requirement that support should not be dependent on legal status. 21% said their LA had ‘ a long way to go’ or was ‘nowhere near’. What does influence support? The actions of the carer. One of the key messages carers wanted to convey to others was that to get support carers had to be knowledgeable, confident, articulate, assertive and persistent. The advocacy or intervention of others - independent advice agency; lawyer; children’s guardian; judge; MP; local paper. The local authority involved The legal status of the arrangement. The hierarchy of support Kinship foster care Special guardianship Residence orders Informal arrangements Those that are approved as foster carers get good support. However those with residence orders, special guardianship etc, cannot access the same level of support. (Manager, family placement team) Looked-after status – an increasingly reliable passport to comprehensive services Kinship foster care the only status which entitles children and carers to support. Key judgements in the courts against LAs mean that kinship foster carers should not be discriminated against financially Manchester (2002) Tower Hamlets (2013) Most Children’s Services staff reported kinship foster carers are now treated equally to mainstream foster carers: 78% same financial/material support 83% other forms of support A passport difficult to obtain, with a limited life 57% professionals experience of disputes about the legal status of the arrangement. - did the LA ‘place’ or ‘facilitate’? Many reported unlawful decisions – historic/current Reasons Lack of clarity in law or LA policy Social workers’ lack of understanding of the law Strategy to keep LAC nos down and minimise costs. ‘Encouragement’ to move on to private law order – special guardianship or residence – for which support is discretionary. SG support typically seen as inferior to both foster care and post-adoption support A care order provides a statutory requirement for services… we know they're going to be monitored and there's going to be a good plan. Support with an SGO is variable, some authorities are very good, others that's it…they close the case (or) plan to offer services but the reality of escalating numbers of cases is that they just don't get the attention and drop down the priority order. (Children’s Guardian/independent social worker) There aren't the same sort of resources within the (special guardianship service) that there are within the fostering service. (Designated manager) The parallels between these situations and adoption are strong really. It’s the treatment that’s different. (Children’s guardian) The advantages of special guardianship Statutory framework does confer advantages over informal care and residence orders Duty to establish SG support services SG allowances must be aligned with fostering rates (Lewisham (2008); Kirklees (2010) Carers can request an assessment of support needs LA must provide a report to the court In care proceedings, independent scrutiny from children’s guardian. Previous foster carers advantaged LA obliged to assess support needs if requested. Power to protect level of allowance. Informal kinship care: doubly disadvantaged We have a 3-tier class system. We have these lucky people who are treated as foster-carers and even people who are on orders are sort of lucky because we have to provide post-order support. Then you get the others, the grandparents who are struggling looking after little Timmy on benefits and not being able to access services. It’s really, really wrong. (Manager, post-order support team) No specific statutory requirements for support. Services can be provided through CAF/TAC or child in need provisions. In practice service delivery is variable & typically insufficient. We get to know about them through the locality children’s teams. They’ve not accommodated the children, they’re viewing it as a private arrangement. They support the carers to go for an SGO & then make the referral to us. We find that the carer is eligible for S17 money but they often don’t get any. They have to fight tooth and nail for everything they get. You’re talking about grandmas on a pension. The kids come to them with nothing. Often we’re having conversations with social work teams around ‘this grandma needs a coat and some new shoes for the kids, you’ve got to help them out’. (Kinship team manager) What needs to be done to develop needs-based support? Key points LAs need to implement the guidance; Government needs to ensure this is done. Positive indicators Cross-government working group Beacons of good practice LAs taking action to improve services 60% ‘some way to go but getting there’ 18% ‘long way to go but taking steps’ But LA budgets under pressure & demand increasing. May choke off embryonic developments. Even well-established services stretched & at risk. What needs to be done? Key points Central government needs to: Strengthen the statutory framework Ensure that current changes to legal aid & the family justice system do not weaken the capacity of lawyers, children’s guardians and the judiciary to protect the interests of children in kinship care, or those who might be able to go into kinship care. Make specific funding available to local authorities to help them comply with the guidance. Accept its share of responsibility for children in kinship care by establishing a national financial allowance. Reports on the research Hunt, J. and Waterhouse, S. (2012) Understanding family and friends care: the relationship between need, support and legal status. Carers’ experiences. Family Rights Group Aziz, R., Roth. D., Lindley, B. , edited Ashley, C. (2102) Understanding family and friends care: The Largest U.K. Survey. Family Rights Group Hunt, J. and Waterhouse, S. (2013) It’s Just Not Fair! Support, need and legal status in family and friends care. Family Rights Group Available on FRG web-site. www.frg.org.uk Additional information The questions addressed in the study Why do children end up in kinship arrangements under different legal statuses? Is decision-making child-centred and needs-based or influenced primarily by other factors? Are carers able to make informed decisions? How does placement support relate to a) legal status b) the needs of the child & carer? How difficult is it to get support? What is the impact of differences in support? What changes in policy and practice are needed? Recommendations for Children’s Services 1 Implement the statutory guidance, publishing & acting in accordance with policies which explicitly refer to, & reflect, the principle that support should be based on need. Ensure policies are accessible & useful to carers & convey a helpful, rather than off-putting attitude. Set up a panel of carers & children to inform policy & practice Ensure frontline teams act lawfully when determining the initial legal status of the arrangement by providing training, clear procedural guidance & and process for scrutinising decision-making. Procedures should stipulate an arrangement cannot be declared private until carers have received information about the option & their implications & had the opportunity to take independent advice. Provide an introductory information pack covering legal options & support. Signpost new carers to independent, specialist, advice. Pay for at least one session of legal advice with a knowledgeable lawyer Recommendations for Children’s Services 2 Link all new kinship carers with a specialist kinship worker Where children would otherwise be in unrelated care, offer an assessment of support needs & an allowance aligned to the basic fostering rate Establish comprehensive kinship care support services, based on special guardianship & post-adoption support & make them available on the basis of need. Create an infrastructure to deliver a needs-based service. Define the designated manager’s role to oversee & promote services for all kinship arrangements. Set up a kinship care group to collect data, audit performance & devise a kinship care improvement strategy, involving local agencies. Give serious consideration to establishing dedicated kinship care teams to conduct all assessments, assess support needs & ensure that carers are referred to appropriate services. Recommendations for Children’s Services 3 Ensure that dedicated teams are adequately resourced to: directly support kinship arrangements; offer advice & training throughout the department; work with other agencies to sensitise them to the needs of kinship families & make them aware of the services available for such arrangements. Provide training for all staff coming into contact with kinship arrangements. This should not only cover the law & local authority responsibilities but aim to increase understanding of this unique form of care as well as addressing underlying beliefs & ideological positions which impede good practice. Recommendations for ADCS Consider how to draw on the experience of authorities with wellestablished kinship services to promote needs-based support in all local authorities Promote the establishment of a network of designated managers to provide forums for the dissemination of good practice. Pool resources to develop training & encourage research into the effectiveness of different models of service provision. Recommendations for government 1 Audit LA compliance with guidance Ofsted to carry out a thematic review Make specific funding available to local authorities to help them comply with the guidance Align the statutory framework for providing non-financial support in special guardianship with post-adoption support. Place a duty on LAs to establish a kinship care support service for residence order and informal arrangements, modelled on their duties in special guardianship. Introduce a kinship passport, modelled on the proposed adoption passport, to provide a clear guarantee of the minimum support kinship families can access nationwide. Amend the definition of a child in need to include children in kinship care because they cannot live with their parents. Make it mandatory to offer an assessment of support needs to such families. Recommendations for government 2 Give kinship carers the same rights to paid employment leave and protection as adoptive parents. Introduce a national allowance to cover the real costs of raising a child in kinship care. Clarify the guidance on section 20 of the Children Act. Improve understanding of kinship care by: ensuring it is included in basic & post-qualifying training; disseminating research & good practice; commissioning on-line training packages for practitioners. Require local authorities to give carers written information about the legal status of the arrangement, their options & their implications, & to signpost them to independent information & advice. Stipulate that carers cannot consent to an arrangement being treated as private until they have had an opportunity to consider this information & to seek independent information & advice. Adequately fund specialist independent advice services. Recommendations for government 3 Fund work on the production & distribution of an information pack for all carers, available in hard copy & on-line. Monitor the combined effect of legal aid cuts, family justice reforms & reduction in the role & capacity of children’s guardians to ensure they do not adversely affect kinship care. In care proceedings, change the law so that kinship carers, or those seeking to care, are automatically parties & entitled to non-means tested public funding. Place LAs under a duty to offer a family group conference wherever consideration is being given to removing a child from parental care, or, in an emergency, soon afterwards. Clarify that living with a kinship carer in long term foster carer can be an appropriate way of providing permanency. Fund a network for children raised in kinship care.