Tuesday, 30 June 2009

I'm Tommy and a Kinship Carer

I’M Tommy and a Kinship Carer

Esteemed friends, guests and fellow kinship carers, can I thank you for the opportunity to address you as to the scandal of children in kinship care.

Can I first of all say that I do not intend to exaggerate, even in the slightest way, do not have to, every kinship carer here and beyond will confirm and testify to what I say nor would I disrespect you by misleading you.

Children in kinship care, or should I call it, “relative foster care” are unique. It is different from all other forms of caring because in the vast majority of cases, the state or local authority have legally intervened and removed the child or children from the family home for reasons of neglect, abuse, bereavement or the child is deemed to be at risk.

Once the local authority has applied to the court for custody, a Children’s Panel is convened and they then apply for a supervision order, Section 10 Children’s Act, they then assume corporate parenthood, they have a responsibility for these children, they cannot wash their hands of them.

Yet for children in kinship care, that’s exactly what they do. There are a number of options they can pursue when a supervision order is granted:
1. Age appropriate, they can place the child in residential care at a cost of £1,000 to £3,000 per week.
2. They can place the child in foster care which can also be expensive with some fees as much as £300 per week plus generous allowances for the needs of the child.
3. Then there is kinship care which has been demonstrated historically through extensive research is the best option. A more loving environment, stability in their lives (as opposed to foster caring where in many cases they are continually being moved on), children in kinship care are healthier, do better at school and their life’s prospect is enhanced. These are the facts

When a child is placed in residential care, he or she has their needs met, no overcrowding, their own room, pocket money, speedy access to special services and as we say in Glasgow “make sure they are well turned out”

Similarly when a child is placed in stranger foster care, every effort is made to ensure they have their own room. There is a start up process where beds, clothes, toys, home and car adaptions are made available. There are weekly allowances to meet thei r needs, currently at £119 to £198 per week. There is extra financial support for birthdays, Christmas and holidays and again fast track access to essential services such as counselling, psychologists etc and rightly so, they are looked after vulnerable children.

But what happens to children in kinship care? The same looked after children with the same legal status.

Can I focus on what is often referred to as Scotland’s greatest city, big hearted Glasgow, my own local authority and to how they treat children in kinship care:
My own experience – not a brown penny in eight years
Moira’s experience – non drinker, non smoker, church goer

This is innocent children we are talking about. Children who have witnessed and experienced things no child should be subjected to. The indifference and discrimination against these children is breath-taking and every kinship carer here can tell their own story.

For years kinship carers across Scotland have campaigned to end this disgrace, to end this discrimination. We have leafleted, lobbied, we have formed numerous support groups across the length and breadth of Scotland, driven by anger as to how we are treated. We have now set up the Scottish Kinship Carers Network – all voluntary. We have also gathered many friends on the way.

It appeared that our efforts had been successful when Adam Ingram, Minister for Children on 5 December 2007 announced to the Scottish media that kinship care children would receive allowances, equivalent to children in foster care at the rate of £119 to £198 per week, age related. There would also be parity of esteem and parity of support to services, an admission you may think, there was previously none. Grandparents and carers were understandably elated, over the moon.

And when the proposals were put to the Scottish Parliament, there was an unprecedented show of unity in support of them, total agreement amongst all parties.

Payments would begin on 1 April 2008, money was being made available to local authorities to introduce them, all kinship children would qualify, the postcode lottery would end. Then fine details were published and it slowly began to unravel – yes the allowances would commence on 1 April 2008 but only for children in foster care. For children in kinship care, they would be phased in over the next three years – it gets worse – only children on a “looked after” supervision order or subject to a new order called “permanence” would qualify.

Excluded would be hundreds, possibly thousands of previously “looked after children” whose grans had gone to courts and taken out “residence orders” often with the encouragement of social workers and often at great expense to themselves.

Also excluded were the many children who had previously been “looked after” but the supervision order was removed because they were thriving with Gran and Grandad. The proposals that were made to Parliament in December 2007 have been so diluted that they are almost meaningless for kinship carers.

There was understandable anger in Parliament with MPs stating that this is not what they voted for and claims that parliament had been misled. Robert Brown MSP with his keen analytical lawyer’s intellect summed it up perfectly when he stated that this was a “cruel deception” that was being perpetrated on Scotland’s most vulnerable children and the elderly carers who look after them.

After intense campaigning by kinship carers, a motion condemning the Government was moved by Rhona Brankin MSP in December 2008 for failing in their promises to kinship children. It was passed overwhelmingly but sadly nothing has changed. It was also pointed out that kinship carers save Scotland in excess of £200 million every year.

It then gets even more insidious. Early this year a new regulation was introduced, it was called a “permanency order” but lo and behold it only applies to foster carers. It was devised on the premise that permanency will offer “looked after children” more stability in life and avoid the trauma of regular children’s hearings. Allowances would continue to be paid under permanency order to foster carers and foster children.
But if kinship carers want the same stability in their children’s life, we have to apply for residence orders and are disqualified for allowances. Kinship carers cannot apply for permanency, you couldn’t make it up if you tried.

This whole legislation has been crafted and designed exclusively for foster carers (the composition of the consultation committee)

Everywhere we turn we are faced with indifference and discrimination, every level we encounter it, we can smell it, it comes wrapped up in patronization and condescension. It is cultural. You know what I mean but nobody says it. THEY ARE JUNKIE’S CHILDREN and yet these are innocent children who have done nothing wrong.

They are stereotyped, this is our experience but wrongly stereotyped.

I am aware of what I am about to say may surprise some of you but the situation facing these children is almost comparable to apartheid
· “apartness”
· They are treated differently
· They are treated inferiorly
· They are grossly discriminated against
· This is Scotland’s real shame

How can we be serious and sincere about eradicating child poverty when we are treating our most vulnerable children like this. You couldn’t treat a prisoner like this they’d sue you. The campaign for justice will continue. We are preparing to challenge the government and local authorities through the courts under the European Convention of Human Rights Article 8 & 14.

It is equally important that we win the support of bodies such as the Commission, we need you to speak out on our behalf.

Can I once again thank you for the opportunity to address you. I am sure you will be listening to some interesting stories from our kinship carers.

Thank you