Parliament

Support for Kinship Carers

Published date : 14 September, 2023
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Vickers. I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) on securing the debate, and I welcome everyone with an interest in kinship care who has made the journey to Westminster to hear it. Anybody who has done so or who is watching cannot fail to be moved by the powerful speeches that have been made by all the Members who have contributed substantively or made interventions to share their perspective.

I dare say I could fill a speech 10 times over with stories of the love, care and benefit that kinship carers bring to relationships. The only time I have had to consider this issue in my own context was in a discussion with my then partner about who, in an ideal world, we would like to look after our children if we ever found ourselves, for whatever reason, unable to do so. That was a challenging enough discussion, so I cannot adequately express my gratitude and admiration for those who step up when they are called on to do so, as we have just heard.

The UK Government are set to publish their strategy for kinship carers later in the year. The Scottish Government have published a number of strategies, which they are in the process of implementing. This is not a matter of geography, because the best place for a child to be brought up is not about geography. The best place for a child to live when they need to leave their birth parents is, wherever possible, in that wider family setting, if it is safe and in the child’s best interests to do so. Kinship care helps a child retain that sense of identity, family, heritage and background and can help them—in ways that other settings, with the best will in the world, simply cannot—to feel safe, protected and valued.

We have already heard about some of the challenges that kinship carers face—the number of legal processes as well as the financial expenses associated with taking on these important responsibilities—and often they did not plan to spend their future years fulfilling those responsibilities. All too often, despite the best efforts of Governments and agencies, the available support is not —and can never be—commensurate with the responsibilities that kinship carers are asked to fulfil.

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) gave an honourable mention to an organisation in his constituency. My good and hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Ms Qaisar) specifically asked me to mention Airdrie Kinship Carers, and the vital network it provides across north Lanarkshire to support kinship carers. It is important that Governments do all they can to ensure not only that individual kinship carers and wider family units are supported, but that the support networks out there are well funded and can operate within a framework of best practice.

Back in 2020, the Scottish Government committed to something that has been called “The Promise”. That was the report of the independent care review, which had the aim of ensuring that Scotland could be one of the best places in the world for care-experienced children and young people to grow up. That is an extremely high ambition, but it starts from a place of knowing that improvement was needed. In the seven preceding years, there had been six reviews of how Scotland cared for children, yet the recommendations—even though they were based on a range of evidence, knowledge and understanding—did not lead to the kind of wholesale change that was necessary.

In publishing “The Promise”, Fiona Duncan—the chair of the independent care review—spoke to the chairs of those previous reviews to take on their perspective on what had stalled things. The answers that came back are probably depressingly familiar: a lack of buy-in for change; insufficient resources invested in enabling the necessary change; in some cases, restrictive rules preventing change; people simply not knowing how to make the change; and much more.

That care review had to be different, and it started with an unwavering commitment to making sure that the care experience community would be at the very heart of its considerations, to ensure as full and proper an understanding as possible of not only how the care system operates, but how it feels to those in it and what children and their families truly need to flourish. On concluding its deliberations, the care review had listened to over 5,500 experiences. Over half of the voices were those of children and young people with experience of the care system. The review took into account the experiences of adults who had lived in care and lots of different types of families. The remaining voices came from the paid and unpaid workforce, whose stories guided the review and whose experiences shaped all its conclusions. As the UK Government set off down their own path of considering similar issues, I commend the work encapsulated by that document, and the resulting action plan, which might inform their work in taking forward the areas for which they are responsible.

As the chair, Fiona Duncan, said:

“It is clear that Scotland must not aim to fix a broken system but set a higher collective ambition that enables loving, supportive and nurturing relationships as a basis on which to thrive.”

Last year, the implementation plan was published. The Scottish Government’s approach reflected “The Fundamentals” set out in “The Promise”, which were:

“To do what matters to children and families

To listen and embed what we have heard from children and families

To tackle poverty and the forces that push families into it

To respect children’s rights

To improve our language”

when we are talking about the care settings.

Some key policy commitments have come out of this plan, including to invest £500 million in preventive spend over the course of the parliamentary Session through the whole family wellbeing fund. That is designed to deliver transformational change and service redesign in the totality of family support, with the aim of reducing the crisis intervention that needs to take place and contributing to the improvement of lives across a wide range of areas, including, but not limited to, child and adolescent mental health, child poverty, alcohol and drug use, and educational attainment.

There are also measures to support local areas to implement the national guidance on child protection, with £10 million invested per annum through the care experience grant—a new £200 annual grant for young people aged 16 to 25 who have care experience. The grant is intended to provide additional financial security for those young people and to help reduce some of the barriers they face in their transition to adulthood and more independent living.

As much as we would like to, it is not always possible for SNP spokespersons to stand up and say how much better we think we are doing, because we know that that is sometimes simply not the case. One area where we have been playing catch-up is in having a standard national allowance. Prior to its introduction, Scotland was the only part of the UK with no national minimum allowance for care support grants for kinship carers—allowances were provided by local authorities, but there was variability. That floor has now been set, which does not mean that local authorities cannot continue to pay more, but there is now a baseline in place. These payments can help people to meet the costs of clothing, hobbies and funding activities and school trips—all the things that help young people to feel included, and not excluded or in any way different. There is also the expansion of the legal definition of “kinship carer”, which has allowed more carers to benefit from the Scottish child payment. We can already see the difference that that is making to the lives of many, whether they are in kinship care or not.

I am acutely aware of the time; nevertheless, it would be remiss of me not to conclude with the words of Scotland’s then Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, in responding on behalf of the Scottish Government to the independent report. He gave this message to the children of Scotland:

“We want you to be safe with the people that you know and love. We want you to be healthy. We want to give you a good education. We want you to know and feel that you are loved.”

As we have heard, the role that kinship carers play in helping to secure those outcomes cannot be overestimated. I very much look forward to listening to the rest of this debate.

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