Less than one in five children taken into care by local authorities in England are initially placed with relatives or friends, research by Ridley & Hall solicitors has found.
Freedom of Information (FOI) requests sent by the solicitors, and answered by 124 councils, found in some areas as few as 11% of children taken into care were initially placed with friends or family placements in the 2016-17 financial year.
This is despite section 22C of the Children Act 1989 stating that councils must give preference to placements with family or friends who are local authority foster carers over other types of placement if a looked-after child cannot live with anyone with parental responsibility. Under the same section, they must also consider family or friends placements when considering placing a child for adoption.
The FOI requests found large disparities between local authorities and regions in relation to their use of family and friend placements.
In the North East, initial placements in kinship care were made for 37% of children taken into care, but that appeared to be an outlier with no other region going higher than 19%, leaving an average of 17% of children being initially placed in kinship care across England.
Nigel Priestley, an adoption solicitor and partner at Ridley & Hall solicitors, said some of the reasons for children not being placed with relatives could be because they fail viability assessments or give up on the process along the way.
But he added: “Or perhaps because the concept isn’t promoted as actively in some regions as it is in others. It is clear from the figures that more needs to be done to ensure children who could safely be looked after by someone they know are given every opportunity to do just that.”
He said some local authorities are more “enthusiastic” for the idea than others and this had created a “postcode lottery”.
“That needs to change for the benefit of families and, especially, for the sake of the children,” Priestley said.