Every child taken into the care of a family member, when their own parent is no longer able to care, saves the public purse upwards of £35,000 per year. The figure applies to a staggering 200,000 children and young people currently subject to kinship care arrangements in England. That is three times the number of children and young people (70,000) in local authority care. This startling statistic got my attention at the ‘Relative Experience Project’ conference I attended on 29 November 2016.
Whilst working with Middlesbrough Council on the ongoing development of the multi agency Early Help Hub, I have become increasingly aware that kinship carers have specific, and often complex support needs. I have made good links with those working to support kinship carers however, I had not quite appreciated the impact having, or not having, this support can have, how little awareness there is of this largely unnoticed group and how little statutory help there is available. These factors are critical to supporting kinship carers, and they are issues we want to consider as part of our ongoing work with early help, to better support and prevent these families experiencing crisis that can lead to the need for more intensive, longer-term and more costly intervention.
Relative experience conference highlights need for support
The conference showcased the impact of the Relative Experience Project, which provides an innovative approach to supporting kinship carers across the North East. The project, delivered by the charity Grandparent Plus in partnership with Family Lives, provides kinship carers with access to specialist information, advice and guidance and offers a befriending service to support both carers and the children and young people in their care and a support network to professionals working with kinship carers. At a local level, the project has supported the development of two support groups, Kinship Carers Middlesbrough and the Association of Kinship Carers Tees Valley
The North East of England has the highest prevalence of children and young people, being cared for by kinship carers in England. Relative Experience Project CEO, Lucy Peak identified:
- Middlesbrough has a higher number of children and young people in kinship care arrangements (2.2% compared with the national average of 1.1%).
- Kinship carers are amongst those experiencing the most difficult challenges, in many cases with limited, if any, local authority support.
- Almost half of these children and young people have special needs or emotional difficulties (49%).
- Over a quarter of kinship carers are caring for multiple needs within the family (27%) with many over 50 year olds taking responsibility for both young children and elderly parents.
- Half do not receive any form of practical or financial support (50%) and just under half are living in poverty having left work to provide care for children (46%).
A Call to Action
All of this provokes a response! There is emerging evidence that children raised by kinship carers experience better life chances and more positive outcomes than their counterparts in the looked after system. However, there is no parity of support for kinship carers compared with the extensive package of support provided to foster carers and prospective adopters, an issue Relative Experience Project are lobbying and campaigning about.
Given the pressures experienced by kinship carers it is not surprising that these arrangements can all too easily break down, and in the worst case scenario, result in children being transferred to local authority care. Relative Experience Project has highlighted how kinship carers, with support from VCOs fare better than those without support.
In the context of my work with Middlesbrough’s multi-agency early help hub this leads me to think about three key questions:
- How can we respond, and improve the experience of children, young people and kinship carers by really understanding their stories and struggles?
- What broader level of VCS early help support could strengthen the work being done by kinship care organisations?
- How might we collaborate across the children and families workforce to provide more preventative support and earlier interventions that value what kinship carers contribute and offer them better support?
We will be exploring some of these questions at an event:
Believe in Families: strengthening early help support for kinship carers and children and young people in their care on 18 January 2017 from 9.15-11.45am
Tracey Brittain is a Strategic Development Officer at MVDA whose portfolio of work currently involves leading on the development and engagement of the VCS in Middlesbrough’s multi-agency Early Help Hub. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 07494 313067