Recently, I started a government petition to highlight a perceived inequality within the care system that is adversely affecting a great number of families and, indirectly, the children they care for. As the petition restricts you to only a few words, it very difficult to get ALL your points across. I hope that what I am about to cover, goes someway to explaining why we need your support to promote discussion on this subject.
Firstly, I wish to acknowledge that there are numerous ongoing studies with regard to this subject and that not everyone will agree with this petition. I understand that some families will be entirely content with the arrangements they have in place with their local authority and if you are one of these lucky families, it is probably down to the area in which you live and/or the knowledge or advice that has been afforded you. On the other hand, many families in other areas of the country, they will feel unjustly treated, or even duped into accepting considerably less support than the children they care for are entitled to. As a carer, who has experience in this area, I am concerned about the disparity of financial support between Kinship and Foster Carers given that they do the same job and go through the same checks and training. Added to this, 2 years ago a court of appeal ruled that both Kinship and Foster Carers are entitled to the same financial support!
Part of the contributing factor is due to how carers are ‘labelled’. One group of careers referred to as ‘professional’ carers (or Foster Carers) whereas the other group is referred to as ‘kinship’ carers (or Connected Carers). This would imply that Foster Carers are somehow better skilled; yet, this is not the case for the reasons stated above. When attending training courses, this differentiating between carers manifests itself in a feeling of animosity between the groups. Foster Carers sometimes view Kinship Carers as individuals who are stealing their jobs when, in many cases, Kinship Carers have to alter their entire lives in order to care for children; many give up employment to provide the time that the children need, they usually deal with much older children and give the much-needed support to provide a better outcome for these children. Kinship Carers also tend to care for children with the most serious of issues (such as poor cognitive and behavioural issues) brought on due to their previous family life and experiences.
Another concern is that when everything is going well for the children and they express a desire to be adopted or leave care (with an SGO) the previous financial support ceases, in part. The very support that has helped to turn the children’s lives around is no longer available. This situation has a knock on negative affect as many ‘potential parents’ (who possibly feel they cannot support the children without this financial support) decide to remain as carers which results in children remaining as Looked After Children (LAC).
It’s all well and good saying “Aah, but you can claim X, Y and Z – including Child Tax Credits or Working Tax Credits.” but this carries a stigma that many potential parents simply wish to avoid. Many would also say “You can claim mileage, clothing, holiday, schooling and opticians allowances.” but again, many carers are here to help the children and therefore want segregation from the care system AND do not want to appear ‘money-grabbing’. Obviously, some do claim these extras but from my experience the majority just want to move forward and enjoy a peaceful life with their new ‘additions’ to the family.
In a time of austerity, and massive budget-cuts, there must be huge administration costs associated with managing and processing this bureaucracy, various claims forms, assessments and reports. Managing such a task must involve using a high number of staff and depleting vital financial resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
It has come to my attention that in Cornwall they provide the same level of maintenance allowances to Kinship Carers as they do to Foster Carers. That they have specialist kinship support teams for special guardians, adoptive parents and carers with child arrangement orders. Cornwall also pay those allowances until the child reaches the age of 18 as they don’t believe anything less, is acceptable. However, in Scotland it is the complete reverse as they do not even recognise SGO. If all local authorities followed the example of Cornwall, there would be no need for this petition.
In summary, I believe it should be possible to devise a single, but fair, monthly financial support package for ALL carers. One that is maintained until the child leaves school (regardless of their legal status) and that this payment accompanies only those who regularly attend generic training.