We have been fighting for the most basic support for the children in our care at local and national level for years. Our main concerns are lack of psychological as well as educational and health services for children who have experienced trauma in their early years; unfair discrimination between children in so-called ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ placements; and lack of financial assistance for children in kinship care.
We strongly believe that if kinship care placements were recognised and properly supported, more family members would take up the caring role, reducing the cost and pressure on the residential and foster care systems.
We’ve already lost one generation in our families, and we we are determined not to lose another. Early intervention and basic support can help these precious children who are Scotland’s future.
* Psychological services from birth for our damaged children to prevent the worst issues later in life.
* Financial support for all kinship children to give them an equal chance to those in foster care.
* End the unfair distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ kinship care.
* Give kinship carers the recognition they deserve.
* Joining up between health, educational and social work services that interact with us and the children in our care.
More on these issues:
Almost all kinship children are traumatically affected by what they’ve seen or experienced in their early days and years, what they’ve consumed in the womb, and the separation from their parents – some go quiet and introspective, some become loud, hyper-vigilant and aggressive, and many are developmentally behind their peers by up to several years. Their behavioural problems make caring even tougher for kinship carers as they can destroy homes, be aggressive towards us, get expelled from school and more (see Our Stories). Evidence shows therapy can work to prevent the worst issues but it must start very young and be consistent to be effective. American academic Bruce Perry has done renowned work on the effects of foetal alcohol and drug harm and traumas on young children.
Currently there is very little psychological support available to our children and most of it comes too late. We are frustrated with the lack of recognition of the specific and predictable symptoms kinship children seem to experience. Blanket diagnoses such as ADHD are not always accurate or helpful and the long waiting lists for CAMHS services are ridiculous. We want experienced professionals dedicated to kinship issues who can support our children in each area. We believe the minimum 1 in 77 children in kinship care in Scotland is enough to warrant this service. Kinship carers across Glasgow have been supported by brilliant therapists from the Notre Dame centre for years and we find their service excellent though they can only support a few of us over short periods. Other services should follow their example.
Distinction between formal and informal:
Children can end up in a kinship arrangement in a number of ways. Many kinship carers lift the child from an unsafe situation out of love and concern without informing authorities first. Some inform them later, and some see it as a private matter, don’t want to make relationships with the parents worse and/or don’t think other agencies can do anything to help them. Some children are dropped off with the carer by police or social work or the carer is called to collect them from hospital. Some are placed by the Local Authority who’s guidance tells them that kinship care is the best option for children who can’t live with their parents.
All of these children are the same – victims of early years traumas who have to live with other family members, but Local Authorities and government guidance artificially discriminates between them, leaving many fighting for support, and many others with nothing at all. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 increased the support available to kinship carers but only made this available to ‘eligible children’. This is defined as those currently or previously Looked After (LAC), or those with a Residency Order (Section 11 of Children (Scotland) Act 1995) who have been placed by social services, or who have social work involvement. But there is plentiful evidence from recent reports and our network of cases in which social workers have placed the child but later denied it, or told carers who contacted them after taking the child themselves that they are not entitled to funds and services.
There is quantitative evidence from the Buttle UK and Bristol University’s 2013 report The Poor Relations as well as extensive anecdotal evidence from our wide network, that Local Authorities have in many cases attempted to do the minimum possible to support kinship placements despite Scottish Government guidance under GIRFEC which promotes kinship placements as the best and primary option for children unable to live with their parents. The section on ‘Services and Support’ in The Poor Relations states:
We had expected that the informal kinship carers would largely be unknown to Children’s Services. We were therefore surprised to find that, since taking on the child, most carers (71%) had contacted Children’s Services to ask for help. However, carers had rarely received the assistance they sought and were occasionally told that if they could not manage alone, the children would have to be fostered or adopted. Whilst these sometimes harsh attitudes are likely to be underpinned by attempts to contain costs, there appeared to be a ‘silo’ mentality whereby kinship carers were expected to manage without assistance.
The limited nature of support was highlighted when the Minister for Children and Young People Aileen Campbell announced in 2016 that approximately 5,200 kinship carers would benefit, a fraction of the total number in Scotland. The situation has perpetuated the piecemeal and arbitrary nature of support, denying some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children the basic support that they require and deserve.
Most kinship carers are struggling to make ends meet and have given up jobs to care for their relative’s children. Many face overcrowding or lack the very basics like beds and shoes for the new addition to the family. In contrast foster carers receive allowances averaging around £200/week to care for children. In 2007 the Scottish government recognised this discrepancy and promised, in their concordat with Local Authorities, to pay kinship carers to an equal level with foster carers. It has taken nine years, and a vociferous public campaign by kinship carers for this promise to become policy in the Kinship Care Assistance (Scotland) Order 2016, along with £10.1 million extra funding for Local Authorities.
Despite this achievement the support will still not reach the majority of kinship carers who are ‘informal’ either due to social services’ definition, or because they have not made themselves known to social work due to stigma and fear that the children will be taken away from them. In addition the level of financial allowance continues to vary across Scotland, in line with the variable allowance for foster carers, which is decided by each Local Authority. We will continue to campaign for a National Kinship Allowance, ending the disparity across Scotland.
We call for a fair, child-centred payment to all children in kinship care (formal and informal – according to need) that comes with a package of support services, giving kinship children a fair chance in life.
Give kinship carers the recognition they deserve:
Kinship carers give some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children the best love and care they could get, and sacrifice their lives, work and health for them. We should be singing their praises not discriminating against them, accusing them of being benefit scroungers and trying to push them under the carpet. Many professionals in education, health and other services still don’t even know what kinship care is! This despite evidence that more than 1 in 77 children in Scotland are in a kinship arrangement.
We call for kinship carers to get the recognition they deserve, just as foster carers and adoptive parents rightly do. We call for special training for health, education and social work professionals on kinship carers and the important role they fulfill. This recognition would make a huge difference to the brave grandparents and relatives who are doing so much.
Joining up between services:
We often find ourselves explaining the background story of the trauma our kinship children have suffered and the symptoms they show, again and again to various services. Often we feel the diagnosis is not correct and is different from the various services (see Psychological Services section).
We called for a more joined up, child-centred approach from health, mental health, education and social work services. One suggestion is that each kinship child should have a short case report that outlines the background and main issues that can go with the child to the various services, putting everyone on the same page. We have been meeting with the Directors of these services and hope to make progress on linking them and improving their understanding of the issues affecting kinship children.