Kinship Care for Babies

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Tuesday 22nd February 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Will Quince Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Will Quince)
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I will be as brief as I can, Mr Mundell. Time is short, and there are so many comments to respond to. Let me first thank my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom) for securing this important debate and for all of her work on “The Best Start for Life” and her commitment to families, babies and children.

My right hon. Friend rightly said that parents and families come in all shapes and sizes. She is absolutely right, and we should celebrate every single one. She is right to raise the important role of kinship care, particularly in the context of babies. She raised her constituent’s case, and I would like to apologise for the experience that her constituent had. I assure her that I am very much alive to the experiences her constituent had. The Government are committed to ensuring that kinship carers receive the necessary support to give their children the support they need.

My right hon. Friend rightly mentions that there are many reasons why babies and older children can no longer live with their birth parents. In many cases, the reasons are sad or tragic. In others, it is for their own protection. I am full of admiration for kinship carers. The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) eloquently and articulately set out the role of kinship carers and the love and affection that he has for baby Lyle—though he is not so much a baby now.

It is not just grandparents who step up to offer loving homes; it is aunts, uncles and siblings. They often make considerable sacrifices, as was set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), who mentioned his friend and constituent Maxine. Last year I met a support group for kinship carers, and they set out some of the challenges they experienced as kinship carers. They are all heroes and we must do more as a Government to support them. I will come on to what I want to do in this area and how I believe we can better support kinship carers and special guardians. I will not talk in very much detail, as I do not have much time, but I am happy to do so at a later date.

It is clear that there are benefits to children remaining with the wider family wherever it is possible and safe to do so and when it is with someone they know and trust. It is about a sense of belonging and maintaining family links. It is about the people and places they know. It is about permanence and the potential for future reunification. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish rightly pointed out, fundamentally it is about love.

I was fast scribbling down points raised during the debate. My right hon. Friend rightly raised—I was fast scribbling these down while she did so—access to support, access to financial support, carers leave, parental leave, employment rights, support groups and advocacy. I would love to touch on every single one of those issues, but I fear I am not going to be able to do so in the time left available to me.

Access to support, both financial and otherwise, is critical. We rightly give a lot of autonomy to local authorities, but is always about striking a balance. Yes, there is a bit of a postcode lottery, but at the same time it is about balancing local discretion and the autonomy of local authorities to make the right decision, because they are the ones that best know their residents. It is about addressing the inconsistency and patchy provision of support at a local level while at the same time making sure that the support that is available is tailored to the individual needs of the kinship carers. The support that Maxine may have needed could have been very different from the support that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish and Allison need, so having local discretion is also very important.

We know that the financial impact of kinship care can be considerable, especially if it is unplanned. There is statutory guidance, and it is clear that local authorities should consider financial help for kinship carers, but as my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) and for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) set out, it is patchy and the cost of failure in children’s social care is high in terms of both the outcomes for children and the financial cost to the local authority.

There is so much that I would love to say, but I am very much alive to some of the other pressures that kinship carers can face—whether it is employment rights, housing, benefits, HMRC, universal credit or child benefit. I see my role as a cross-Government one, and although I do not have all the levers to pull, it is part of my role to ensure that other Government Departments are playing their part and ensuring better support for kinship carers.

In the minute or so I have left, I want to say how sympathetic I am to the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire on the apparent disparity between the support offered to foster parents and adopters versus kinship careers. It is complex and there are considerable challenges—not least because most kinship care arrangements are informal and familial, which makes it challenging—but I want to explore what more we can do. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend and others from across the House to improve the service and support that we are able to offer.

I would like to put on the record my sincere thanks to my right hon. Friend for securing this important debate, and I want to reiterate my commitment, and that of the Department, to champion across Government the needs of kinship carers. I assure my right hon. Friend, and indeed the House, that I am committed to ensuring that those who step up to take a baby or child into their care receive the support that they need to give that baby or child the best possible start in life. As I say, if I had more time, I would love to answer every single point in detail, but I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend and others from across the House, as well as with charities in this sphere, to improve the support and provision for families.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (in the Chair)
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I call Dame Andrea Leadsom to wind up the debate by 17.49.