The Department for Education (DfE) has today launched England’s first kinship strategy.
The long-awaited document includes plans to pilot giving some kinship carers equivalent allowances to foster carers and expanding the role of virtual heads to cover support for children of kinship carers in education.
The department said it would also provide carers with improved training and information, so they could better understand their rights, as well as enhanced peer support. Employers would also be encouraged to improve their support to kinship carer employees.
However, while charities welcomed the publication of the strategy, they said it did not go nearly far enough in improving support for kinship carers.
Allowance boost for some kinship carers
Currently, only family and friends foster carers, among kinship carers, are entitled to a financial allowance.
The central measure in the strategy is a pilot – in eight areas – that would provide some kinship carers, looking after children previously in care, with equivalent allowances to foster carers.
The national minimum fostering allowance is currently worth £154 to £270 per week, depending on the child’s age and the location of the placement.
The pilots come after research revealed that kinship carers faced significant disparities in support based on locality, whether the child had previously been in care and the legal order they were supported under.
£20m for strategy
The DfE said its strategy – part of its children’s social care reform programme – would benefit carers of the more than 130,000 children living in kinship arrangements.
The department has set aside £20m – part of the £200m for its social care reforms from 2023-25 – for the pilots and other elements of the strategy.
“Kinship carers are often hidden in plain sight and today’s strategy paves the way for them to be given the practical and financial support they deserve for the pivotal role they play in children’s lives,” said children’s minister David Johnston.
The strategy’s publication was welcomed by the charity Kinship, which has long campaigned for one.
‘Significant recognition of monumental role’
Chief executive Lucy Peake said it was “significant recognition of the monumental role kinship carers play in transforming the experiences of hundreds of thousands of children, which has been overlooked and undervalued for too long”.
She said the charity particularly welcomed the multi-year piloting of financial allowances for some carers.
But she added: “Too many kinship carers living outside of these pilot areas or ineligible to participate will continue to wake up each morning with the stress of wondering how they can continue to afford to keep providing a safe and loving home for their child.
“Kinship’s recent report, Breaking Point, found that 12% of kinship carers were concerned they may no longer be able to care for their kinship children in the next year if their situations didn’t improve, risking tens of thousands of children unnecessarily entering an overstretched care system.”
‘Disappointment’ on lack of paid leave
And while welcoming new guidance encouraging employers to improve support for carers, Peake said the charity was “disappointed the government is continuing to deny kinship carers a right to statutory paid leave, like adopters are entitled to”.
Fellow charity Family Rights Group delivered a similar message on both the allowance and paid leave issues.
“The strategy provides an important opportunity to raise the profile of kinship care and it does make some welcome steps forward,” said chief executive Cathy Ashley.
“However, we are concerned that the strategy falls victim to the same timid ambitions that are holding back the government’s wider plans for children’s social care.”
Further boost for foster care recruitment and retention
Alongside the kinship strategy, the DfE has also announced an additional £8.5m in funding to support foster care recruitment and retention. This is also part of the £200m for wider social care reform and takes allocated spend on foster care recruitment and retention to £36m up to 2025.
The department said 60% of councils would be supported with their foster care recruitment and retention through the funding.
It has also published its revised version of Working Together to Safeguard Children and its children’s social care national framework, setting out key objectives for the sector.