Kinship Carers say human rights are threatened

Carer and child DumbartonThe Scottish Kinship Care Alliance has submitted its first consultation response – to the Scottish Human Rights Commission’s consultation on the top Human Rights priorities for Scotland which they should include in a National Action Plan on Human Rights.

Our response focuses on the Human Rights issues affecting children in Kinship Care in Scotland. The full response is below.

  1. Based on the evidence presented in the report Getting it right? Human rights in Scotland, or your own experience, what do you consider to be the most urgent human rights issues which should be addressed in Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights?

We believe the rights of children in Kinship Care is one of the most urgent Human Rights issues in Scotland today. We say this because we know, and the 2011 Buttle UK report ‘Spotlight on Kinship Care’ has proven, that there are huge numbers of children living permanently with another family member or friend in Scotland. The Buttle report uses 2001 census data to show that 1 in 77 children in the UK is in Kinship Care, and this is likely to be much higher in deprived areas of Scotland. Yet only 1,736 of these children is formally recognised as a ‘Looked After Child’ in Kinship Care and provided with any services or support. The rest are unseen and unsupported.

The point we wish to make is that many of these children are living with poverty and a lack of essential support as they are un-recognised and un-provided for by Local Authority services who see this arrangement as a family matter. In addition there is outright discrimination in the provisions available for a) children in non-relative foster care and those in ‘family foster care’ (Kinship Care), b) children who have ‘Looked After’ status and those who are not ‘Looked After’ despite comparable need.

The Dignity and Care report highlights the issues facing un-paid carers and notes the Scottish Government’s work around a Carer’s Strategy. The vast majority of Kinship Carers fall into the category of un-paid carers as they do not receive a weekly or monthly allowance and remain either un-seen or ignored by Local Authorities, yet Kinship Care (or ‘informal Kinship Care’ to use the current legal distinction) was not included in the Carer’s Strategy and informal Kinship Carers were not invited to be part of the Carer’s Parliament. This is indicative of the ongoing approach of the Scottish Government on the matter – which is largely to ignore it. We are also surprised that such a significant group as Kinship Carers was not mentioned in the Dignity and Care Report.

Kinship Care usually occurs when a family member (usually a grandparent) takes care of a child from an unsafe situation with its parents. This is often due to drug or alcohol addiction, abuse, or bereavement. There are several ways this can occur:

a) Grandparent (or other family member) removes child for its safety, then contacts Social Work to make them aware.

b) Grandparent (or other family member) removes child for its safety and does not contact social work.

  1. Social Work or the Police place a child with a Grandparent (or other family member) – this can happen suddenly in the middle of the night.

The children facing these situations are usually of very comparable needs, yet, depending on how the arrangement was made they will be treated completely differently. Each Local Authority takes a different approach but in general financial support (ranging from £0 to £40 to £200/week in different LAs), training, and access to some psychological and educational services are only available to those children who are given a section 70 or Supervision Order which makes the child legally ‘Looked After’. Most Kinship Care children are on a section 11 or Residence Order, which generally comes with less support if any. Many more Kinship Carers are told that the Local Authority was not involved in the placement and therefore they are entitled to nothing. Other Kinship children are taken off a section 70 once they are settled and the support drops away.

The current system of legally defining Kinship Carers is unfair and discriminatory and is leaving Kinship children without the very basic levels of support they require. This usually includes:

  • Money for nappies, beds, shoes and basic provisions.
  • Psychological services to help them with early days/years trauma which they have often experienced
  • Educational support as they are often suffering with behavioural problems due to foetal substance damage and early life traumas.
  • Basic support with housing – some Kinship carers we know have up to 5 grandchildren living with them in 2 bedroom houses.

We note that there is a reasonable amount of statutory guidance on Kinship Care which suggests that any carer to whom the Local Authority is made aware is entitled to a range of assessments, a child’s plan and a variety of support. However, in practice this very rarely happens. On the one hand we would agree with the report that ‘not enough carers are aware of their rights’ (and we have been demanding that Local Authorities provide Kinship Carers with clear information on their entitlements from the first moment of the placement). But we would also add that in many cases Social Work departments are not proactive in supporting Kinship carers or making them aware of their rights, and even try to avoid supporting them with their basic entitlements. One of the key ways this happens is that Social Work will deny that they placed a child or move a child from a section 70 to a section 11. We believe this is due to overstretch on the part of Social Work who have not been adequately resourced to support Kinship Carers and others properly.

Finally, we have experienced repeatedly that Kinship Carers (like many other groups) are not adequately consulted or involved in policy making and service design that affects them. Consultations are often hugely biased towards tertiary educated people from Third Sector groups and much of the access to politicians on the issue is dominated by large charities who Kinship Carers often feel do not really represent their views and needs. There should be guidance about who is consulted and asked to sit around the table

when policy and practice is being discussed and drawn up, and this should ensure that those directly affected are at the heart of the process, and not just third sector who claim to represent them.

 

2. What specific and achievable actions do you consider would best address the concerns you identify in your response to question 1?

 

  1. Review the distinction between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ Kinship Care placements and ensure that all children of comparable need have access to financial support and services. We would suggest that all children in a Kinship Care placement (whether s11 or s70) are defined as ‘Looked After’ children and supported accordingly as long as they are in the placement and still in need of support.

 

  1. Ensure that children in Kinship Care placements have parity of life chances with children in non-relative foster care and are not unfairly discriminated. This means offering a ‘living-rate’ financial payment to Kinship carers, providing start up funds for the very basics such as beds and clothes, and providing access to psychological and educational services.

 

  1. Adapt the rules on consultations and reviews of policy and practice so that those directly affected by the policy area must be present around the table and at consultations.

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