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It’s Just Not Fair

Nigel Priestley was invited to attend the launch of a new report called It’s Just Not Fair from Joan Hunt and Suzette Waterhouse from University of Oxford at the House of Commons on 14th May. The launch was attended by Edward Timpson, the Children’s and Families Minister, MPs and members of the House of Lords as well as leading judges.

Commenting Mr Priestley said “Joan Hunt is one of the UKs leading researchers on kinship care. She is widely respected by the Government. I welcome the report’s findings. Ridley & Hall has a national reputation for ensuring that kinship carers have the support that they need. We know however that we are simply dealing with the tip of the iceberg.

The report found that many carers were in a weak position often lacking independent legal advice. A recent report on kinship care from University of Bristol and the Buttle Trust confirmed that family and friends carers need access to expert legal advice. The report emphasises that decisions taken about the carers and the support they need are so important as their impact can last for years.

These carers are looking after children whom the Report found had faced “multiple adversities.”

As a local example of the people the Report is referring to, this week I represented a 30 year old West Yorkshire man in care proceedings. He was the uncle who had put himself forward to care for his 3 nephews. We had a real battle with the local authority. They wanted the children adopted. All the children were under 5. The court decided he should be the carer and that the children should not go for adoption. He has a package of support that will help him. Without  the benefit of a solicitor he could easily have failed both in his application to care and to get an appropriate financial support package.

The report’s main conclusions are:

  • Children in kinship care have typically experienced multiple adversities, similar to those in unrelated care. Many kinship carers experience considerable stress in caring for these children and feel isolated and unsupported.
  • Although government guidance states that support should be needs-led and not dependent on the legal status of the arrangements, only a minority of professionals thought that local authorities were achieving this. Both carers and professionals identified many ways in which children and their carers are being failed.
  • There was a strong perception that local authorities actively resist the use of kinship foster care, with many professionals arguing that this is a deliberate strategy to keep the number of looked after children down and minimise the costs rather than reflecting the child’s best interests. Most professionals had experience of local authorities not complying with case law about the criteria for looked after status and some are said to be still acting unlawfully.
  • Carers are in a weak position in relation to local authorities, often lacking the failed. information and independent advice needed to make informed decisions and access support. The court process provides a potential safety net, protecting the interests of carers and children, but its operation is variable and there is a risk that it will be further weakened by changes to legal aid and care proceedings and diminishing input from children’s guardians.

Variation in practice within and between local authorities was a persistent theme, pervading all the data.

The critical dependence of support on legal status was abundantly clear, particularly evidenced in the professional data. Looked after status, the only one which provides entitlement to support, is an increasingly reliable passport to a comprehensive package of services for both carers and children. The statutory framework for special guardianship means that it is usually a better option than a residence order, but since supportis discretionary, very much inferior to kinship foster care. Informal arrangements are the least well supported. Carers who act on their own initiative to protect children are often discriminated against in terms of accessing support.

Although the research findings, on the whole, present a gloomy picture, some local authorities appear to be providing an above average level of service and there is also evidence that others are seeking to improve the support they provide. There are concerns, however, about the impact of current financial constraints on the support which can be provided to kinship care arrangements. This is a pivotal point in the development of kinship services.

The report was commissioned by the Family Rights Group. Nigel Priestley is a Trustee of the FRG.



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