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Children & Child Custody

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Kinship carers not adequately supported

The charity Family Rights Group has warned that family and friends carers are not receiving adequate support from local authorities to help them raise some of the country's most vulnerable children.

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, by Family Rights Group, in partnership with Oxford University’s Centre for Family Law and Policy, has uncovered a major lack of support for family and friends carers or ‘kinship carers’ and the estimated 250,000 children living with them.

The study found that 45% of English local authorities had not published a family and friends care policy, despite being required by the government to do so by the end of September 2011.

The study also found that 76% 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. These options include:

  • An informal arrangement with the parents’ agreement.
  • A court order obtained by the carer (a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order), giving the carer parental responsibility for the child. The local authority has the discretion to pay an allowance to the carer.
  • The child is looked after by the local authority and placed with the friend or relative who has been approved as a foster carer for the child. The carer does not have parental responsibility, which is either solely with the parents (if the child is in their care with their agreement) or the local authority also has parental responsibility if there is a care order for the child. The carer is entitled to receive a fostering allowance from the local authority.

Family Rights Group chief executive, Cathy Ashley, said: “Family and friends carers gain a lot of love and satisfaction from their role but it often has significant personal, mental and financial costs, which are exacerbated by the lack of support from local authorities.

“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.

“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.”

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