Kinship carers voices heard at Holyrood

The kinship carers demonstrate at the Scottish Parliament
The kinship carers demonstrate at the Scottish Parliament

Around 60 kinship carers and their supporters and children from across the Scottish regions, including South Ayrshire, protested outside the Scottish Parliament last week.

They spoke to and leafleted MSPs arriving at Holyrood for the parliamentary debate on the Children and Young People Bill which took place last Wednesday, urging them to vote for amendments which attempt to increase the support available to kinship care families in the bill.

Kinship carers demonstrate at the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Kinship carers

Kinship carers demonstrate at the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Kinship carers

Kinship carers claim that if these amendments do not go through vital support for vulnerable children in kinship care will be cut.

Kinship Carers or ‘relative foster carers’ are friends or relatives (usually grandparents) who take permanent care of a relative child (usually grandchild) when the parents are unable to care for them. This is usually due to alcohol or drug addiction, mental health problems or bereavement.

Kinship carers and the children in their care faced the cold weather, waving placards and banners reading ‘stop this Bill’ and ‘end the discrimination now’. One banner pointed out that ‘we are saving the Scottish government £600 million per year’ – a reference to avoided care costs from keeping kinship children in the family.

They chanted loudly using a megaphone and loud voices and sang versions of popular songs. A number of MSPs came down to meet and hear from the carers before going into the parliamentary session.

A petition which asks the Scottish Government to amend measures which will reduce the support available, and which has gathered a thousand signatures over the last week1 was handed in to Cabinet Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning Michael Russell.

Mr Russell, along with David Blair, Head of Looked After Children policy, met with Chair of the Scottish Kinship Care Alliance, Anne Swartz, Vice Chair Tina Hendry, and supporter Martin Johnstone from the Poverty Truth Commission, and assured them that the Kinship Alliance will be involved in developing the secondary legislation for the Kinship Care Order as part of the new Bill.

The Scottish Kinship Care Alliance and its supporters claim that the Kinship Care Order, a new legal status for kinship placements proposed in section 10 of the new Bill, will reduce, or fail to increase, support for children in kinship care.

They say it will reduce the number of kinship children with Looked After status over the coming years, instead placing them on a Kinship Care Order which does not entitle them to the same level of support, limit the number of placements, fail to ensure that often traumatised kinship care children have priority access to psychological and educational support and fail to ensure that local authorities provide a minimum financial allowance.

The Financial Memorandum of the Bill openly states that the measures suggested will save the Scottish Government and local authorities money over the coming years, rather than increasing the investment into kinship care.

Three groups of amendments have been put forward by Jayne Baxter MSP with the support of the Scottish Kinship Care Alliance. They aim to amend the Bill to legislate for a minimum level of financial support for all kinship care placements, and increase the age of eligibility for support from 16 to 18.

Scottish Kinship Care Alliance Chair and kinship carer Anne Swartz said: “It is despicable that the Scottish Government is trying to further reduce support, which is already inadequate, under this Bill. Children in kinship care should not suffer because their family members have taken them into their care, where they have maximum stability and love, rather than letting them go into the foster or residential care systems. These children have comparable needs and should have access to the same services as those in other forms of care.”

There are at least 20,000 kinship carers in Scotland and the majority suffer poverty and distress caused by taking on extra children according to the Buttle UK’s comprehensive 2013 report ‘The Poor Relations’.

Most of these placements are informal, ie. unsupported by the local authority, and Buttle UK claims that each informal kinship carer saves the taxpayer between £23,500 and £56,000 a year, despite many of these carers finding themselves in poverty, with 31% of these families unable to provide all of the eight basic items that most of us consider necessities.