Local authorities are failing to implement central government policy to support kinship carers, according to new research from advice charity Family Rights Group.
When children are unable to live with either of their parents, official guidance stipulates they should be enabled to live with a member of their extended family or social network, provided this is feasible and in the child's best interests. Yet one of the largest series of studies to date carried out by the Oxford University's Centre for Family Law and Policy, has uncovered a major lack of support for kinship carers and the estimated 250,000 children living with them.
Researchers surveyed over 490 carers raising more than 750 children, conducted 95 in-depth interviews and analysed data obtained from Freedom of Information requests to local authorities.
The report showed that many vulnerable children are placed in unrelated foster care before being placed with family and friends, often creating unnecessary upheaval for the child. One in five children being cared for by a friend or family member had first been placed in unrelated foster care before eventually being moved to a kinship arrangement.
Although local authorities have the discretion to pay an allowance to a kinship carer, almost half of carers surveyed said they had received no practical help from their local authority and 95 per cent identified at least one form of support they had needed, but not received.
Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group said: "We know that the system simply cannot cope with the increasing numbers of children going into care - there's a shortage of foster carers and there are huge delays in the court system. Consequently many children end up going through multiple moves, which can have a devastating impact on their lives.
"Our research shows many local authorities are not fully exploring and supporting opportunities to place children with family and friends, who can offer the security, continuity and love they so desperately need. These people are relieving a great deal of pressure from the state care system and acting in the best interests of incredibly vulnerable children, benefiting the rest of society. They deserve better. The amount and type of support carers receive from local authorities appears to bear little or no relationship to the child's or carer's needs, which is absolutely shocking."
Seventy-six per cent of carers surveyed felt they did not have enough understanding of the legal options and the implications for the level of support they would receive to make informed decisions. Ms Ashley commented: "Councils' failure to help and support people through the legal minefield when they are raising children that would otherwise be the authority's responsibility is a dereliction of duty. The consequence is that carers, and, by direct implication, the children, are denied the legal, financial and practical support they are rightly entitled to."