Glasgow Kinship groups call to end discrimination in Children and Young People Bill

Granny in street picGlasgow Kinship support groups have responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the proposed Kinship Order suggested in the Children and Young People Bill. The responses point out the need to address the discrimination that currently exists against children in Kinship Care and ensure that more, not less, children in Kinship Care are able to access support, services and allowances to provide the very basics to the vulnerable children in their care. The responses highlight that:

* Access to the proposed Order and allowances, support and benefits that should come with it must be available to non-looked after as well as looked-after children. Services and support must follow the child rather than the placement. (ie no matter what legal order the child is under they still get help if they need it).

* Though there should be the option for more parental rights and less statutory involvement if that’s what the Kinship family want and the child is happy and settled, social work should remain as a support when needed for example with contact time with parents etc.

* The proposed Kinship Order must come with a legal obligation to provide support to the child. This should include financial allowance, psychological and educational services and respite for the kinship carers.

* Any assessment criteria for the Kinship Order must be fair. This means assessment should not be as strict as for foster care (which is a very stringent assessment), recognising that Kinship Care is the proven best option for kids unable to live with parents and that due to the tendency for them to be grandparents of vulnerable families health and complicated family circumstances will naturally be more of an issue.

* For all of this to be possible the Kinship Order MUST be properly resourced with funding by the Scottish government. There is a lot of evidence that the lack of support offered to children in Kinship Care now is due to lack of funding at Local Authority level.

* There are major questions about what will happen to people who don’t get or don’t want the new order. Will they still get the support they may currently be entitled to or not?

The three responses are listed below, followed by the Poverty Truth Commission’s response which gives a detailed account of the pros and cons of the proposed Bill.

Response to the Children and Young People’s Bill consultation by the New Fossils East Glasgow Grandparents Group.

On December 2007 the Scottish parliament voted unanimously pay children in kinship care the equivalent financial allowances as children in foster care. They claimed there would be parity of esteem and parity of support in accessing vital services, that the existing postcode lottery would be no more, and that COSLA had agreed and signed up to this agreement. Kinship carers were elated, for years many of them had campaigned against the blatant discrimination that these children were experiencing and the indifference that their carers faced. Parliament had effectively agreed that children in foster care and children in approved kinship care arrangements would be treated the same.

In January 2008 a spice briefing was published by Camilla Kidner, elaborating on the implications of parliament’s decision regarding kinship care. Under the title ‘definition and legal status of kinship care’, a looked after child was a child on a supervision order section 70 and so would qualify for allowances and support. Not looked after were children where parental responsibility or residency orders (section 11) were in place. These children would not qualify for any allowances or support. At a stroke these paragraphs eliminated and excluded the vast majority of kinship carers who had often – with encouragement from social workers and at great financial cost to themselves – applied to a court for section 11 to strengthen the position of the children they they were looking after. We don’t believe the parliament were aware they were voting for this.

These definitions are patently absurd and against natural justice. Here is a common example; A gran has had her grandchild for a year. A children’s panel has conferred a supervision order. The child subsequently is entitled to allowances and social work support. One year later the children’s panel removes the supervision order because the child or children are thriving in her care. The allowances and support stops yet gran is still looking after them! Equally it applies to carers who have applied for residency orders; gran is still looking after the child or children but they find the child is disqualified from allowances or support as a result of this so called legal definition of a ‘looked after child’. This has compounded the discrimination and diversification that the decision of parliament was intended to erase.

Not only have local authorities broken their concordat pledge to implement parliament’s decision to give kinship carers parity with foster carers, many are now taking shameful advantage of this definition to avoid or reduce their responsibilities towards these children, many of them Scotland’s most vulnerable and damaged kids. Almost five years have passed since parliament voted to give kinship children the same rights and supports as foster children and the current situation remains shameful. There are only two of Scotland’s 32 authorities paying allowances comparable to foster allowances. Some are paying nothing. There is widespread variatios in the allowances that are in place. There are some local authorities who recognise the inherent injustice of the definition of a ‘non looked after child’ who is still staying with their carers and have ignored the regulation and pay all children in kinship care the same rate irrespective of status, while some are using definition criteria and only pay allowances to strictly ‘looked after children’ and nothing to ‘non looked after’ despite these children having previously been on supervision orders and have previously been entitled to allowances. Other local authorities are paying one rate for ‘looked after children’ and a lesser rate sometime less than half to’ non looked after children’.

At a round table evidence session on kinship care at the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee on 17 January 2012 the kinship carer present brought these shocking facts to the committees attention. The resultant decision was taken to write to all local authorities for up to date information on their kinship care policies. Their replies make staggering reading (refer to Education Culture Committee 20th March 2012). It is most clear that Scottish politicians have failed these children despite the lofty decision that was unanimously agreed in 2007. Indeed in many respects it is even worse.

Kinship carers welcome the proposals to create a statutory framework for kinship care, but if this proposal is to have any real meaning and not just tinkering or tweaking then it must make a start by returning to and rewriting this unfair definition of a child in kinship care. It is our contention that the allowance should follow the child and if the child is living in kinship care then he or she is still being ‘looked after’ and no amount of spurious legal mumbo jumbo alters that. It is simple common sense. What a mess we are in now – the postcode lottery is even more widespread and discrimination against these children even more entrenched.

The Executive Summary Statement

The statement asserts that the Bill will embed the rights of children and young people across the Public Sector, in line with the ‘United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’ (UNCRC). We as Kinship Carers assert that Kinship Children’s rights under UNCRC are currently being breached, in respect of article (2) – the right to be protected against discrimination and also, article (4) – the right to have your rights made reality by your Government. We assert that Scottish Local Authorities are blatantly discriminating against children in Kinship Care, in terms of financial allowances and other forms of support, despite the fact that many of these children have the same legal status under Scottish Law as children in Foster Care.

In addition, the Scottish Government are fully aware of these discriminatory practices and have done nothing to end them. Scotland’s Local Authorities are also in breach of the ‘European Convention on Human Rights’ article (8) and article (14). This judgement was laid down by Mr Justice Munby against Manchester City Council in 2001, where he ruled that the policy of paying lower weekly allowances to Kinship Carers as apposed to Foster Carers was unlawful. Although this judgement was taken in Manchester, the principles submitted are based on the European Convention, which covers Scotland also.

From: New Fossils Grandparents Group (East Glasgow)

Response to Scottish Government consultation on the Children and Young People Bill Kinship Care section.

We are Kinship carers who are members of (WGGSG) based in the west of Glasgow. We are responding to the Kinship section on the Kinship Order; which are consultation questions 26 & 27.

More rights & better support should be given to Kinship carers who are currently suffering with very little help or services. Kinship carers also have very little decision making power for the children they look after. Kinship carers should not have to face parents at court over rights. Kinship carers should have more parental rights allowing less conflict with birth parents.

Kinship carers agree that a single fair assessment should be done. It is important for the simple recognition of kinship carers and to make sure the children are safe. However it should not to be as rigorous as the Foster carer’s assessment. Less corporate parental involvement would be good but should be based on the Kinship care assessment.

What do you get with Kinship order? All Kinship carers (formal and informal), need financial help as well as non financial help i.e. support services, educational psychologist and respite should be available to every Kinship carer who needs it.

What does need to be looked at is the reason authorities are not making use of existing legislation (section11) which is not being used, so what makes Kinship carers think things would be any different with new Kinship Order. There has to be dedicated financial funding to make it happen. What happens to Kinship carers who do not have a new Kinship Order?

Most Kinship carers are not in a position to work. Kinship children want to be treated as “normal”. Social work do not have enough resources. Finances need to be put with this bill. There should be minimum amounts for Kinship carers and these should interact with government benefits as in Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) in Kinship and Foster Care – Ann Black.

There should be a process of complaint in place i.e. if a Kinship carer is not getting on or in non agreement with social worker involved. This happens in many cases and the social worker can withhold support from the carer. Kinship children (formal & informal) should not be discriminated against; they should all have an equal chance in life, as children in foster care.

Each and every child in Scotland deserves to have access to the same support, benefits and services from across all agencies and in the community to enable children and young people to grow, develop and reach their full potential. (GIRFEC Lanarkshire, Feb 2010).

Charlotte Reid, Secretary.

West Glasgow Grandparents Group

Response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the proposed Children and Young People Bill.

Dear Sir/Madam,

We think it would be good if all kinship carers were to be treated equally, especially the kinship carers who do not have formally Looked After children and do not receive the current Kinship allowance. At the moment there is disparity and discrimination between carers. We have a number of questions about the Bill:

Is there going to be funding for the proposals in this Bill? Kinship carers need more funds to provide the basics for their grandchildren.

How strict are the assessments going to be and what are the consequences if you do not pass?

Are housing issues going to be addressed? Most kinship carers in our group are overcrowded and with long waiting lists have no hope of receiving larger houses, would their be monies available for loft conversions/extensions to ease these as this has been done for foster carers in the past?

On the aspect of kinship carers returning to work – what would the financial implications be for us would we receive help with child care and after school care?

We hope to discuss this further with you soon,

Yours Sincerely,

Jackie McKissock

South West Glasgow Kinship Support Group

 Poverty Truth Commission:

Response to A Scotland for Children: A Consultation on the Children and Young People Bill

“Sometimes it’s just assumed that all that needs to happen is place the kids with kinship carers and everything else will fall into place – the stress and strain has been unbearable sometimes” Kinship Carer1

Introduction

The Poverty Truth Commission is made up of two groups of people: those with direct experience of poverty in their daily lives, and some of Scotland’s influential civic leaders who are committed to working together with them for change. Our motto is ‘Nothing about us, without us, is for us’ and we passionately believe that poverty will never be addressed until those who struggle against it are treated as part of the solution not the cause of the problem. Several of our Commissioners are Kinship Carers.

The Poverty Truth Commission has worked closely with Kinship Carers from across Glasgow over the past three years, bringing them directly together with the Scottish Government and other agencies to address the issues children in their care face. This response is based on speaking with many of, in particular, Glasgow’s Kinship Carers – the part of Scotland with the highest levels of children in Kinship Care. It is also based on our collaboration with senior officers in Social Work, the NHS and Third Sector organisations as well as with the Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Commission for Children and Young People.

Our response focuses on paragraphs 149 to 157 of the consultation which proposes a new legal order for Kinship Care placement. In addition to a detailed response to the proposals suggested, we have also answered the consultation questions at the end of this document.

Recognition for Kinship Carers

I do not want the world. Just to be treated equal to the other people (foster carers) doing the same job as us.” Kinship Carer2

We applaud the high priority the Scottish Government has given to Kinship Care within this Bill consultation. This proactive approach plays a crucial role in giving Kinship Care families the recognition they deserve for keeping some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children in loving placements and out of the care system. We recognise that the Kinship Care population in Scotland is considerably larger than has previously been assumed and is rapidly growing. Current Scottish Government estimates suggest there are more than 20,000 children in Kinship Care, with less than 3,000 of these formally looked-after and entitled to support. We recognise that these increasing numbers represent a very significant challenge for the Scottish Government and others. We are clear, however, that failure to address these issues adequately at this stage will have long term and damaging repercussions not only for children in Kinship Care but for Scottish society as a whole.

Increased permanence and parental rights, less corporate parenting

We agree with paragraph 151 that for some Kinship Care families, in which the child is settled and stable, less involvement from social work or other corporate parenting bodies is desirable. However, Kinship Carers have consistently emphasised the importance of being able to fall back on social work in hard times, especially with regard to facilitating contact with the birth parents which can often be difficult.

We agree with paragraph 152 that increased permanence and reduced parental rights is appropriate and desirable in a large number of Kinship placements. Our wide experience demonstrates that most of these placements are very long term or permanent. At present the emphasis on parental rights can be very restrictive for Kinship families, preventing basic decisions from being taken and reducing the freedom and opportunities for the child.

We agree with paragraph 152 that Kinship Care should be proactively sought out as an alternative to the formal care system, recognising that it has been proven to be the best and most stable option for children unable to live with their parents. Further, this could include an aspiration to reduce the numbers of children in foster care or care homes and increase the number in Kinship Care. We recognise that this could save the Scottish Government large amounts of money over time. We also recognise that increasing the number of Kinship placements will only be effective if those placements are appropriately supported financially as well as with fully costed essential services which give Kinship children an equal chance to those in the formal care system. The resourcing of this support should be seen by the Scottish Government as an initial cost to ensure a considerable future saving. This should fit well with the Scottish Government’s priorities on early intervention and preventative spend.

Who is the Kinship Order for?

Excerpt from a Kinship Carers’ story:

Jackie has looked after her grandson, aged 5, since he was 5 days old. He has never had an overnight stay with his biological mother in this period. Her grandson suffered 10 months withdrawal from methadone after birth – one of the longest methadone withdrawals recorded in Scotland.

She has a residency order and gets family allowance and child tax credits. She fought for a year to get the £40/week kinship allowance, as social work claimed that her grandson lived with his mother in another local authority. She has never had any social work visits despite informing social work that she cares for the child.3

It is unclear to us who will be entitled to the new order. Paragraph 151 suggests it will be for ‘those children at risk of becoming looked after or already looked after in kinship care’ while paragraph 154 suggests that ‘anyone with a pre-existing relationship with the child’ will be entitled. Further, paragraph 154 suggests that foster carers would be eligible for the order. Unless the foster carer is also a family member or close family friend, we would not consider it appropriate for them to come under the umbrella of Kinship Care.

We agree with paragraph 151 that many children in informal Kinship Care have comparable needs to others in formal arrangements and should be supported accordingly. The reasons for their informal status can be complicated and many in Glasgow have been unable to get formal status (residence or supervision orders) with the associated support despite trying. We are concerned that without clear guidance, the temptation for many local authorities will be to prefer to maintain children in informally looked after status where the costs for the local authority will be much lower.

We assert that all children in Kinship Care, whether formal or informal, should be eligible for a legal status that gives them stability, and entitles them to financial and non-financial support which many critically need. We believe that there are a range of important questions which require to be addressed before we could state whether or not we believe that the proposed new Kinship Care order would be beneficial or not. Would the new Kinship Order guarantee a financial allowance and access to services such as educational and psychological support? If the new Order is not a looked-after status would it guarantee more or less support than currently offered to looked after children in Kinship Care? Would looked-after children in Kinship Care who do not go forwards for the order still receive support? What about non-looked after children in Kinship Care who are either unable to, or don’t want to go for the Kinship Order. Will these children have access to support they require?

What level of assessment is appropriate?

I am worried about the assessments. I look after five children and we stay in a three bedroom house. The two girls share the room with me and my husband has slept on the sofa bed for the last five years. I have asked the housing for a loft renovation but they said no. If I was assessed this would be called overcrowding and I might lose the kids. They are all so happy here and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Anne McGee, Kinship Carer.

Paragraph 153 states that the new order will give Kinship Carers a ‘right to request an assessment of need’ in order to access ‘appropriate financial and non-financial support’.

What level of assessment of Kinship Carers is envisaged to receive the new legal order?

Kinship Carers have told us about recent assessments which have included detailed examinations of health and family history similar to the foster care assessment process. It should be acknowledged that Kinship Care is distinct to foster care, as the carer is a close family member with a prior relationship to the child. Since most Kinship Carers are grandparents they are by definition generally older with more health problems. They often have complex and difficult family relationships with the birth parents which it can be very painful to have questioned insensitively. Many Kinship Carers have taken the child from a risky or chaotic situation into their care out of love, without waiting for statutory involvement. Because of this there are many cases in which Kinship Carers homes are overcrowded, sometimes with four of five extra children. Kinship Carers should not be penalised for this in any assessment but helped to find extra space, renovate lofts or move house.

We have also heard how the current assessment process to receive support and a legal order (such as a residency or supervision order) can be take to a year or longer, leaving carers and children struggling to get by without the very basics while they wait. Kinship Care assessments should recognise that remaining with close family is the proven best option for children unable to live with their parents and avoid penalising Kinship Carers where unnecessary. Any new system which is introduced must be able to be put in place quickly and should not disadvantage children in Kinship Care settings whilst an order is being pursued.

We believe the level at which assessment is set will be crucial to the success of any new order. If the bar is set as high as for foster care very few Kinship Carers will be able to receive the order and will be left unsupported. If the bar is set at a reasonable level, accepting the family status of Kinship Carers (which we would recommend), it is crucial that the Scottish Government and Local Authorities are prepared for the numbers of Kinship Carers who will come forward to receive this much needed support and be ready to fund it accordingly.

We will address in detail the financial and non-financial support required by children in Kinship Care in the next section.

Why is current legislation not working?

I’ve got a new social worker. She came out last week and it was just a nightmare. They’re taking my respite.. She was asking about the £40 and making out I spent it on carpets!… She said ‘don’t ask us for anything’.” Excerpt from Mary’s story4.

In considering our response to this consultation we have held discussions with the Scottish Commission for Children and Young People, the Scottish Human Rights Commission and Glasgow Social Work directors, amongst others with long term expertise in the field. These organisations point out that, in their opinion, the current legislation (Section 11) has the capacity to award permanence orders, award increased parental rights and give the kind of support to Kinship Care placements suggested in this consultation. We are aware from our extensive experience with Kinship Carers and Glasgow Social Work that there are many cases in which current legislation is not being used to support Kinship families who desperately need it. In our view, this is partly due to a lack of recognition or understanding of the role of Kinship Carers on the part of some sections of Local Authorities, but largely it is a result of the lack of resources and capacity within Local Authorities to support the court process to obtain more permanent placements, or to fund basic Kinship allowances or other services. It is our clear opinion that new legislation will not be effective without a very clear assessment, including costings, of the current gaps in existing services and provisions, and of the barriers Kinship Carers face in getting ‘looked-after’ or other formal legal statuses.

We are concerned that without significant financial backing any new legislation will not be effective in providing a stable legal status, or the necessary support of services and financial allowance desperately needed by children in Kinship Care. In common with previous attempts to address the issues facing children in Kinship Care, the new Kinship Care order could promise much but actually end up delivering relatively little.

Giving children in Kinship Care an equal chance in life

One of the Social Workers said to a woman in our group: ‘Oh he’s just a Kinship kid’, meaning he’s not entitled to anything like foster carers get. I feel that a lot of Social Workers think it is the grandparents’ fault anyway and they should just deal with it.” Excerpt from Margaret’s story.5

We note that children in Kinship Care are some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children who, if not taken in by family or friends, would otherwise be in foster care or the residential care system. We believe, as we know the Scottish Government does, that children in Kinship Care placements should have an equal life chance to other vulnerable children either in the care system or remaining with their parents. We are, therefore, alarmed at the lack of basic services such as educational and psychological support currently available for children in Kinship Care. In order to give Kinship children the equal chance they deserve we would suggest that services and support should follow the needs of the child rather than be attached to the legal status of the placement. In addition levels of support should be consistent across and within Local Authorities. Whilst we recognise the importance of subsidiarity, we are clear that all children in Scotland are entitled to certain universal rights.

Keeping these underlying principles in mind there are a range of services and supports which are available to children in other types of care placement which are urgently required by children in Kinship Care with comparable need. We are concerned that the wording of paragraph 157 will not entitle these children to the necessary support and would suggest that a duty is placed on Local Authorities to provide Kinship Care placements with access to the following services as required:

a) Financial support. We agree with paragraph 157 that Kinship Carers should be able to access the appropriate benefits entitlements for the child in their care. In many cases the parents of the child continue to claim these benefits and Kinship Carers can be powerless to stop them. In addition a basic Kinship allowance should be paid to the family. This should be set at a minimum level across Scotland which ensures that families are better off when benefits deductions are taken into account. We note that a minimum allowance for foster carers has also been proposed in this consultation.

We note that this consultation does not mention the interaction of Kinship allowance payments with the benefits system. Citizens Advice Scotland’s reports on their Kinship Care service have detailed the impacts of this interaction, which has in many cases left Kinship Carers little better off with the Kinship allowance. This is an ongoing issue which needs to be addressed. We are aware of the efforts of the Scottish Government to engage with the UK Government on this issue but we remain concerned at the lack of reported progress.

We are further concerned with the emphasis placed on enabling Kinship Carers to get back to work in paragraph 157. Though this may be desirable for some Kinship Carers, it is our experience that the majority are dealing with one or more new child, usually with a range of behavioural and psychological difficulties as well as a stressful family situation, and would in most cases be unable to take on work again.

b) Educational and psychological services. NHS service leaders in Glasgow were surprised to hear that the range of services that go with a baby who has experienced withdrawal in hospital when it goes home with an addicted parent, drop away if the baby goes to a ‘safe place’ with another family member despite the foetal and early traumas the baby has experienced. Children in Kinship Care have often been victims of neglect and foetal drug and alcohol harm and witnessed disturbing things in their early days and years. Research recommends that therapeutic intervention for these children should begin as early as possible to prevent the worst behavioural and psychological impacts which tend to become apparent at ages 4, 5 or 6. Many Kinship Carers have reported being unable to get appointments with CAMHS and other mental health services. Kinship Carers have also reported that nurture classes and therapeutic support in schools has been incredibly positive for children in their care. It would be great to see this service extended into more schools. We have consistently argued that it is access to these psychological and health services which are fundamental to any effective support of children in Kinship Care6.

c)Respite services. Many Kinship Carers have no other family to turn to in order to get time off from their stressful caring role. In addition many are elderly and may also be caring for other members of the family. Services like Gies a Break have been very valuable to Kinship Carers in Glasgow but there is little access to them for the majority.

d) Starter packs. In many cases the child arrives at a Kinship placement with little more than the clothes on their back. Kinship Carers can be left without nappies, a bed or other absolute basics to provide for the child. Emergency Starter Packs should be available to ensure Kinship families get immediate help obtaining these basics to enable them to care for the child without having to wait for lengthy assessments before accessing any support.

e) Housing. Some Kinship Carers have taken three, four or five children into their care. This can lead to overcrowding, though the kids may be happy and settled. Help with loft renovations, small extensions or moving to a larger house could prevent some of the worst symptoms of poverty that children in Kinship sometimes experience.

Participation of Kinship Carers

The Poverty Truth Commission believes that policies and services will only be truly effective when they are designed, delivered and evaluated in collaboration with those affected by them. We have now piloted this approach to Kinship Care policy and services in a range of settings in Glasgow. Specifically, the Director of Glasgow social work – David Crawford – has set up a quarterly reference group led by Kinship Carers to enable them to respond directly to their needs and shape services to be most effective. This is proving very positive for both the Kinship Carers and Social Services.

We would encourage the Scottish Government to involve Kinship Carers much more directly in the shaping of any new legislation and would be happy to facilitate this process where useful.

Consultation questions

26. Do you agree that a new order for kinship carers is a helpful additional option to

provide children with a long-term, stable care environment without having to become looked after?

We applaud the concept of a specific Kinship Care order which gives Kinship Carers the recognition they deserve and could simplify the current complex range of legal statuses available. We agree that increased parental rights, more permanency and decreased corporate parenting can be desirable in many situations. However we are concerned that this order will only be effective in giving children in Kinship Care an equal chance in life if it is available to children with comparable need across Scotland and comes with financial and non-financial support. This will require significant financial investment from the Scottish Government. Though ‘looked after’ status is not ideal for many Kinship families it is currently the best way to access basic allowances and other services urgently required by Kinship children.

27. Can you think of ways to enhance the order, or anything that might prevent it

from working effectively?

As we have detailed above, it is our opinion that the proposed order will only be effective if it is not contingent on strict assessments similar to those for foster carers; if it comes with financial and non-financial support; and if it is available to children with comparable need across Scotland. For this to be possible adequate financial backing will be required. It is our firm belief that new legislation will be enhanced when those affected by it are directly involved in the policy making process. If it proceeds to bring forward legislation around this matter, we would expect the Scottish Government to publish not only the direct costs of the legislation but also, and critically, the indirect costs which would ensure that any new legislation addressed the real issues that children in Kinship Care are facing.

1Moving forward in Kinship and Foster care : Final Report on the GIRFEC in Kinship and Foster care Strategy. September 2008. www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/262356/0078450.pdf

2ibid

3The Poverty Truth Commission. Kinship stories. August 2012.

4ibid

5ibid

6Please see the Poverty Truth Commission’s report ‘Support for Children in Kinship Care’. Attached to this response.

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