Kinship carers – grandparents and other relatives who look after children when their birth parents cannot – claim they have been left “reeling in shock” after the contract for a vital helpline and support service was given to two adoption and fostering organisations.
They are calling for the Scottish Government’s decision to award a service contract to Adoption UK (Scotland) and the Adoption and Fostering Alliance (AFA) Scotland to be urgently reviewed. They argue there is a conflict of interest in paying adoption and fostering organisations to support kinship because – in their view – there is a historic lack of trust.
The Scottish Kinship Care Alliance also believes kinship care has been discriminated against, claiming that the voices of its largely working class membership have been drowned out by professional charities including those awarded the contract.
The campaigning group, which represents thousands of Scottish carers, says that the decision on the contract conflicts with “the Promise” made by the Independent Care Review. This called on the Scottish Government to commit to ensuring children are kept with their families wherever possible.
Announcing its publication in February, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she considered the Care Review to be “one of the most important moments in my tenure as First Minister so far”.
According to the most recent statistics 29 per cent of “looked after” children in Scotland are in kinship care, with one third in fostering arrangements and 10 per cent in residential care.
Since 2015 – following more than a decade of lobbying by campaigners – kinship carers with formal arrangements have been paid the same allowance as foster parents, which covers essentials like food, clothing, travel and other expenses. However, unlike foster families, kinship carers are not paid fees on top as the role is not a job and they can struggle with issues such as accessing benefits and emotional support.
There are thought to be a further 20,000 kinship carers, looking after children informally, who are not being financially supported. Carers from the Scottish Kinship Care Alliance claim they “battle every day” to keep their children out of foster care and to stop them from being adopted out of the family.
In acknowledgement of these challenges, the Scottish Government funds the Kinship Care Advice Service, currently run by Citizens Advice Scotland.
After an open tendering process earlier this year, the service was awarded jointly to the Adoption and Fostering Alliance Scotland and Adoption UK (Scotland), who will take over on 1 September.
As well as a dedicated helpline for kinship carers to provide support on such issues as finances, benefits and the law, the service will support activities for children and young people, training for kinship carers, plus advice for professionals working with them. It is also planning to hold an annual ‘kinship care awareness week’.
However, the Scottish Kinship Care Alliance claims the decision took no account of the lack of trust between its networks and some fostering and adoption agencies, while insisting it should have been consulted.
That is the place we dread our kids going. The government is expecting us to work with an agency that most of us fear. I can’t understand how they could get this so wrong.Micheleine Kane, the Kinship Alliance
Micheleine Kane, chair of the Scottish Kinship Care Alliance: “The work of the agencies that are taking over this contract is a total contradiction to what we do.
“That [foster and adoption placements] is the place we dread our kids going. The government is expecting us to work with an agency that most of us fear. I can’t understand how they could get this so wrong.”
Kane, who is a kinship carer to her two grandchildren, claimed the organisation, which has groups in every local authority area in Scotland, did not know that Citizens’ Advice Scotland’s contract was running out, or that it had been put out to tender.
When she got an email informing her of the new arrangements, Kane claims she initially thought it must be an error.
“We strive every day to keep these kids from foster care and adoption and now they [charities supporting these options] are going to be presiding over, and getting the funding, for supporting those providing kinship care,” she added.
She had to fight for 13 months to care for her now six-year-old grandchild after she was taken into foster care at birth. The resulting trauma involved has left her with little faith in the care system. Kane claims her situation is common among kinship carers.
She felt reassured though after giving evidence to the Care Review. “We thought we had gained so much ground when we saw the Care Review,” she said. “We thought that the Scottish Government was listening to our argument that kinship is the best option.
“We are not saying that we could do away with fostering or adoption. We are not naive. But what we are saying, and this is backed up by the Care Review, is that they are best placed with family.”
She added: “Then they give the conflicting organisations the contract for the kinship support service. It feels like a slap in the face to every single kinship carer. We are still reeling from the shock.”
Duncan Dunlop, chief executive of Who Cares Scotland, which has supported over 100 kinship carers and their families over lockdown, said he understood her concerns.
“Kinship carers, and the young people that they look after, deserve better support than they get now,” he added. “I can understand how, when the Care Review concluded that more had to be done to keep young people with their biological families, this change feels uncomfortable. Kinship carers need this national support service so at an absolute minimum, more work needs to be done to gain their trust and confidence.”
We have no view that adoption or fostering are preferred options, simply that wherever the child is living they and their carers need the best possible support.Robin Duncan, Adoption and Fostering Alliance
Robin Duncan, director of Adopting and Fostering Alliance (AFA) Scotland said the Kinship Alliance had already raised its concerns. He also claimed that he understood that kinship carers had previously had to fight for recognition of their contribution.
“Our motivation to participate in running the service, however, is precisely because we believe that children in kinship care, their carers and all who support them, should get greater recognition and better support,” he added.
“AFA Scotland’s aims are about improving the experience of children where they are unable to remain with their parents or are at risk of being removed from their care.We have no view that adoption or fostering are preferred options, simply that wherever the child is living they and their carers need the best possible support.
“We fully accept that trust in the service will need to be earned rather than gifted. We are keen to engage as much as possible with kinship carers and with the children living in their care and would welcome discussions with individuals or groups who want to share their views and help develop the service.”
Last month AFA Scotland advertised for a “kinship consultant”.
Fiona Aitken, director at Adoption UK (Scotland), denied that the organisation’s focus on supporting adoptive families was a conflict of interest, claiming it now worked with foster and kinship parents in one service it provides.
“We want to work with existing kinship support groups to help them to continue making a difference, and will be consulting with kinship carers throughout our service development process,” she said. “We do have members and service users, and staff members within our team, who are experienced kinship carers, and have spoken with other groups who are in favour of the change.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said it recognised “the important role played by kinship carers in providing secure, stable and nurturing homes for children who cannot be cared for by their birth parents”.
They added: “The contract for the National Kinship Care Service was awarded following an open and competitive procurement exercise, and the new providers are keen to work collaboratively with kinship families to ensure that the service meets their needs.”