There were firm commitments from the Labour Party to increase support for children in kinship care, from the Conservative Party to draw up regional adoption agencies and from the Liberal Democrats to invest in training for foster carers. Below, I’ve set out our response to the key election manifesto pledges:
The Labour Party
We will increase support for children in kinship (family and friends) care and their families, a group too often overlooked and undervalued
We have been campaigning alongside the Family Rights Group to raise the profile of kinship care, and we’d like to see a commitment from all parties to support kinship care. We are delighted that the Labour Party has taken this first step.
Kinship care is currently the Cinderella care option- kinship carers are not eligible for the same support as adopters or foster carers, and they are also penalised by the benefits system. For example, many have fallen foul of the spare room subsidy and availability to work rules. As a result, it is crucial that any additional support for kinship carers should enable free access to legal and advice services.
The Conservative Party
We will introduce regional adoption agencies, working across local authority boundaries to match children with the best parents for them
Introducing regional adoption agencies would be a major change to the way in which adoption services are currently delivered. It is vital that any such reorganisation will focus on a child and their need for a family for life. We need to see greater clarity on these proposals.
At present there are nine Regional Adoption Boards reporting to the Adoption Leadership Board, who are focused on improving performance at a regional level. This is still a fairly new initiative and needs further time to become established.
We agree that there are benefits for children when local authorities work co-operatively, together with Voluntary Adoption Agencies in their region, to identify suitable matches for children in their care. There are already some well-established regional consortiums, where local authorities are developing new ways of working together and we would support further development of these models.
Continue to make it easier for children in care to find a loving home, through the national Adoption Register and the new national gateway for adoption, a first point of contact for potential adopters
Recent reforms to adoption have reduced delay in the time it takes for a child to be placed. However, for children from ethnic minority backgrounds, older children, those with a disability and sibling groups it is still a challenge to find the right match. The decision by the Liberal Democrats to maintain momentum on the current measures, like the Adoption Register, and the new national gateway for adoption, provide continuity and is welcome.
Tackle delay and instability in foster care, with better support and training for foster carers, including on mental health issues
Providing better support and training for foster carers, and focussing on mental health issues will be essential to the development of foster care. A further step in the right direction would be a government commitment to driving forward best practice in the sector, ensuring increased support and funding of foster care, alongside the emphasis on support and training for both foster carers and social workers.
There are over 90,000 looked after children- that’s children in the care system in the UK. It is paramount that the next government provides appropriate support for these children and their carers. Any failure to do so risks condemning some of our countries’ most vulnerable children to an unstable and uncertain future.