There has been a significant increase in the numbers of looked after children in kinship care placements over the last ten years. This reflects a strong Scottish Government policy objective to identify family and friends as a first option for a home when a child can no longer live with their parents and requires alternative care. The wider legal framework around looked after children is clear that children have the right to have their family and friends explored as alternative carers if they can't live at home.
The Care Review published The Promise which makes recommendations for transforming how Scotland cares for its children and young people. The Promise reinforces the need for more children to live safely and thrive within their own family and community. Maintaining, sustaining and protecting loving relationships is central to The Promise, which will create and further support a culture where practice has a focus on family supports and networks, including any potential kinship options, for children. This is likely to further increase kinship care placements in Scotland.
Traditionally, kinship care has been viewed as a cheaper option secondary to fostering and adoption in terms of allowances, support and a lack of standardised practice across the country in how carers are assessed via an assessment framework, rigour and approval process. It is evident there has been a shift and that kinship care is a developing area within social work practice in Scotland, mainly due to the implementation of National Guidance Part 13: Support for Kinship Care of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 which placed additional responsibilities and duties on local authorities to offer assistance and support to kinship carers. Another significant development was the Association of Fostering and Adoption Scotland (AFA), operating the National Kinship Service for carers and professionals. This offers kinship easier access to the expertise and knowledge from AFA, Adoption UK and Child Poverty Action Group, which better supports professionals and kinship families to meet the needs of the individual children in their care.
The last few years has seen the emergence of kinship teams within local authorities and a corresponding increase in designated kinship care workers. This change has also seen additional investment and resources put towards the assessment of kinship care placements and post placement support. It is now more widely understood that children in kinship placements irrespective of their legal status have similar experiences to children in other types of alternative care in terms of exposure to multiple layers of adversity in their early years. Kinship carers therefore require ongoing support to meet the needs of children and young people in their care. This is essential to support children to recover from their previous experiences and trauma, furthermore kinship carers require ongoing support and strategies in managing children’s behavior’s and feelings to assist them in providing children a narrative why they live in kinship care. Kinship care can be a very complex area of practice and consideration needs to be given to the intergenerational issues within families when assessing kinship options. The level of dysfunction within families can be contributed to the kinship carer/s who have not parented their own children adequately, which could have led to the reason why the birth parent has experienced difficulties parenting their own children. Within kinship care there is complex family relationship/dynamic at play which can add additional emotional impact and complexities. In North Ayrshire we put a lot of emphasis on the rigour and detail of the assessments, which is viewed as an intervention to support and assist kinship carers, taking into consideration how they will manage children who have encountered significant adversity, and the challenges and complexity in meeting these needs alongside managing complex family dynamics and divided loyalty. There are also significant discussions with existing and potential carers on the impact of kinship care on a personal level - financial impact, child related and family related.
The kinship assessments we carry out can and are a good indicator of the sustainability of the placement, carers ability to meet current and future needs, identifying support needs, risks and vulnerabilities with any potential or existing kinship placement.
Understanding kinship care
In North Ayrshire there is a significant cultural change in looking at the wider community, family strengths/assets and alternative family options when children are involved via child protection registration, looked after at home, and edges of care. Practitioners operate with a presumption that a placement within the family is the optimally desirable option other than where there is clear irrefutable evidence of risks that cannot be permitted or managed. There is an acceptance that kinship care is fundamentally different from foster care and the primary goal must be the assessment of the carers capacity and the care offered within the extended family or wider network while ensuring that the child’s individual needs are able to be met throughout their childhood.
Over the last few years, I have been involved in some very positive practice where children have moved from foster care to kinship care. This involved two large sibling groups who were placed with kinship carers and this allowed the siblings to be placed together, something that was not possible in foster care because of the size of the family group. Another example of decision making is the identification of kinship carers for babies who are removed from parents at birth - this reduces multiple placements and care givers which supports a child’s secure attachment.
Kinship care has been a developing area of Social Work practice in Scotland over the last ten years and given the current landscape and policy drive it is likely that kinship care placements will increase and the challenge will be how local authorities provide the non-financial support to kinship carers and the children that they care for. I continue to be amazed at the commitment, strength and resilience of kinship carers who unselfishly put their own life and aspirations on hold to take on the care of family members or children that they have a pre-existing relationship with, therefore preventing these children from entering or remaining in the care system.
Like every kinship placement and assessment there is an element of uncertainty, but there is clear research and evidence that kinship placements offer a greater likelihood of placement stability in comparison to other, alternative care options and permanence can still be achieved via a court order.
As the impact of this evidence and the outcomes of the implementation of The Promise become more apparent, it will be interesting to see how kinship care and the support offered changes and develops over the next ten years.
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.
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