Supporting Kinship Care: launch of a new protocol for cross authority situations in Scotland

Children and Families

Social Work Scotland are delighted to highlight our Kinship Care Protocol in Fostering Fortnight; the first of its kind in the UK. The Protocol comes out of close collaboration among Scotland’s local authorities, determined to bring about greater consistency of practice in the complex world of kinship care.

Our care system must provide the stable environments and loving, supportive and enduring relationships that every child needs to thrive. Kinship care is a critical part of the continuum of care for Scotland’s children, enabling children to continue living with their own family.

Scotland has a proud heritage of extended family care, but until relatively recently it was a largely informal system, with different approaches across the country to if, and how, support was provided by local authorities to children and carers. Recognition of the place of extended family care – or kinship care as it has become known – has led to massive policy development over the past 15 years, and ultimately legislative recognition of the vital place extended family play in our care system.

But if Scotland is going to make The Promise a reality, its kinship carers need the right support to enable them to care for the children living with them, many of whom have experienced significant adversity and trauma. Carers need practical, emotional and financial support.

Unfortunately, positive policy intent had led to confusion on the ground, with varying interpretations about organisation’s responsibility for providing support, especially where carers reside in a different local authority to the child’s parent. There is also confusion arising from the various legal orders which are now available to kinship carers. While we have successfully formalised kinship care over recent years, we have not yet cracked the issues of varied legal interpretation and inconsistencies in the provision of support.

These issues have been a preoccupation for Social Work Scotland’s members for a number of years, and this Protocol is the outcome of their commitment to resolve the challenges families and children continue to face. Working in close cooperation with legal and political partners (SOLAR and COSLA), our members have produced a framework which clarifies the legal duties of responsible authorities, and confirms a common understanding and approach to supporting kinship carers. It should therefore reduce debate and improve partnership, increasing consistency of practice and, ultimately, improve the experience of kinship carers and the children they care for. The Protocol is the first of its kind, emerging up from frontline professionals and the families they work with.  It embodies how we hope to bring social work’s values around rights and relationships to the fore in how we build support around children and families.

The protocol has also been endorsed by the Kinship Care Collaborative, a government-initiated collaboration of practitioners and kinship carers. The Collaborative aims to simplify the policy and legislative landscape and work with carers and those supporting them to align kinship care support to the Promise – ensuring that children have the right support at the right time, regardless of their legal status.

We hope that as the Kinship Care Protocol becomes embedded, it will provide a model for how nation-wide improvement for children and families can be achieved when staff and managers are encouraged and supported to take the initiative to find solutions to the dilemmas being raised by carers, children and other professionals. Discussions are already taking place to consider if this approach can be used in other policy areas, where different legal interpretations and resource allocations are evident. The protocol will adapt in the light of feedback – and perhaps one day, as legislation and policy change, it will not be needed at all!