A ground-breaking case on kinship carer payments could leave local authorities with a huge bill, a social care lawyer has warned.
The High Court ruled that a 64-year-old grandmother who looks after her 15-year-old granddaughter should receive the same payments from Kent Council as foster parents would be entitled to.
The ruling increases the grandmother’s weekly payment to £164 from £63.
Social care lawyer Ed Mitchell said: “This case could have big financial implications. Local authorities have just let family carers get on with it and now the court has come down on them and said this is foster care and should be funded accordingly.”
If the Kent case sets a precedent, Mitchell said, it could also affect risk assessments.
“It will mean the obligations that are attached to a child who is fostered will kick in for these children who are looked after by family members,” he said.
Fostering organisations are pleased with the decision.
“I think it’s high time that kinship carers had their properly assessed needs fully met,” said Jeffrey Coleman, Southern England Director of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). “The child’s needs can’t be ignored and if they’re as needy as children in foster care, despite being placed with family, the same resources should be provided.
“What we have at the moment is a disjointed system where there are these irrational differences in provision.”
Raina Sheridan, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said the court’s decision supported her organisation’s stance on kinship carers.
“If a child goes to live with a relative because their own parents can’t look after them, the relative should undergo a through assessment to ensure that they will be able to look after the child properly and meet their needs,” she said.
“This assessment should include a focus on the financial and practical support the carer and the child need, and if the child considered ‘in need’, their carer should receive an allowance, equivalent to that paid to foster carers, to cover the costs of looking after the child.”
Others have welcomed the judgement, saying it could lead to kinship carers receiving deserved recognition.
“People who offer to help should be given equal opportunities in every way,” said Ed Merchant, a freelance assessor who works in kinship care.
Merchant said kinship carers were given the same assessments as other foster carers, but they did not receive any training. He hoped cases like this would lead to changes in the system.
“The requirements aren’t the same and that’s how local authorities justify paying family members less,” he said. “But none of that is in the best interest of the child. Kinship carers should get the same training and the same money.”
Kent Council plans to appeal.