Following today’s publication of the Department for Education’s national Kinship Strategy, our Deputy Chief Executive Donna Molloy shares her reflections on the strategy and outlines our plans to help build the evidence base around kinship care.
Today’s launch of the Department for Education’s first national Kinship Strategy is an important acknowledgement and celebration of the crucial work of those friends and relatives who step up to care for a child or young person. Supporting kinship carers is crucial, but we still don’t know what kind of support makes the biggest difference to them, or the children they care for.
To date, there has been little research in this area and almost no evaluation of what works in this often-hidden pillar of our care system – but here at Foundations we are committed to changing this status quo and providing kinship families with the evidence-based support they need. We set out the scale of this challenge during Kinship Care Week, and we are pleased that the Department has recognised the importance of building the evidence base on what works to support kinship families and is taking steps to address this.
The publication of the strategy today takes us one step further to achieving our goal of all kinship families consistently accessing effective support.
Recent census data found that kinship families face higher levels of deprivation than other families. Financial support is a practical way to make a difference to the lives of children living in kinship care. Whilst many local authorities already provide financial support, our recent survey found that Kinship Carers faced significant disparities in support based on locality, whether the child had previously been in care and the legal order they were supported under.
We welcome the plans announced in the Kinship Strategy to expand financial allowances and to evaluate these in order see what impact equalising financial support can have, both for kinship carers, and for the children they care for. Our evaluation of this policy will provide important knowledge about how best to implement this kind of support, which is key if it is to be scaled up effectively.
Improving access to Family Group Conferencing
Finding out what works is only the first step and too often we don’t act on this evidence. Social policy is full of examples of things shown to make a difference that are not widely implemented, which is why we are excited to see that the Department will explore using legislation to mandate offering Family Group Conferences at pre-proceedings stage. Our evaluation found that Family Group Conferences are effective at keeping children out of care, and we are pleased to be working alongside the Department to increase families’ access to this vital tool.
Since we published our evaluation, we have been working to address some of the issues preventing local authorities from offering this service to more families. Our project on local authority data management will shed light on how local authorities can more effectively monitor which families are offered, and go on to receive, a Family Group Conference. If collected nationally, this data could provide crucial information for local authorities and policy makers on how to go further in improving take up this intervention, so more families can benefit from this support.
We also want to do more to understand the experiences of families and how they felt about being offered and receiving a Family Group Conference, and what more can be done to ensure that this process is inclusive for all families. Next year we will be carrying out qualitative research with families, to collect rich information about their experiences and which can be used to help shape services in the future.
Putting evidence into practice
As the numbers of children in the care of family and friends rises, it becomes even more important to equip local authorities with the knowledge about what has been shown to make the most difference in order to provide effective services. We are currently carrying out a rigorous systematic review on what works to support kinship families and in the summer will set this out in a new Practice Guide that will provide local authorities with the knowledge and tools they need to commission and deliver evidence-based support to kinship families. Practice Guides are central to the transformation of the children’s social care system, and supporting the sector to achieve the outcomes set out in the newly published National Framework. The Kinship Strategy sets a new national direction for kinship care, and the Practice Guide will support local authorities to align services with this vision by providing clear guidance on the proven ways achieve the outcomes in the National Framework.
It is good to see attention being given to the most common form of alternative care for children. While we know that keeping children with their families can improve their long-term outcomes, it is essential that kinship care is not viewed as a cheaper alternative to other types of care. Kinship carers must receive the support they – and the children they care for – need. As the What Works Centre for children and families, we know that running evaluation to find out what works can help us provide more effective support to kinship carers, and make a difference in the lives of children in these families. A key part of our strategy is to support family networks – this is one of our priority areas – and we will continue to work with Department for Education and partners in the sector in delivering this aim.