Changing the way we think about kinship care

Wassell, Carol and Porter, Robert and Welch, Victoria (2016) Changing the way we think about kinship care. In: XIV International Conference EUSARF 2016, 2016-09-13 - 2016-09-16.

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There is growing formal recognition that children who are looked after away from home should be brought up in their family of origin wherever possible (Scottish Government 2007, 2009; Algate and McIntosh 2009). When children are at risk of abuse, or birth parents are unable to provide care, state authorities may intervene to remove the child and place them with other members of their family in ‘kinship care’. Children need carers who are able to meet their needs for life. There is concern in Scotland that the option of permanent kinship care is not always explored early enough, beginning after a child has been placed in local authority care, and resulting in additional, unnecessary placement moves and instability. Equally, there is concern that children are placed with kinship carers on an emergency basis and left too long with carers who are not able to meet their needs in the long term. Objective: This paper describes a project working to improve systems and practice in decision making and assessment for kinship. The project seeks to refocus kinship as a proactive child care intervention when there is a risk to a child, or when they are unable to remain in their parents care. Quality Improvement methodology (Langley et al 2009) and Active Implementation theory (Fixen et al 2005) are being used to create sustainable changes that include avoiding unnecessarily placing children outside of their family of origin. The project also tackles disruption and delay resulting from spending too much time assessing unsuitable kinship carers. Method: A number of strategies and methods are being used to bring about measurable improvement to the care experiences of children and promote their long-term stability. The project works in local areas to explore human behaviour, and understand and develop data and systems. This supports local managers and practitioners in developing a theory of change and identifying appropriate models to bring about positive changes. Results: Successes have included identification of more potential kinship carers, quicker assessment of suitability, and shifts in managers’ and frontline staff’s thinking. Data have been produced indicating how long it takes for the local authority to make a decision to permanently place children in kinship care, or to rule out kinship options. Importantly the data also identifies those children who are still waiting, allowing drift to be addressed. The project is changing the way we think about early identification, and more timely assessments of carers. The aim is that this will reduce unnecessary placement moves for children and allow timelier placement with suitable carers. Conclusion: The project seeks to build an evidence-base of good practice in the identification and assessment of kinship carers that can be used as a blueprint in other contexts. This work is part of a wider project that delivers Permanence and Care Excellence (PACE) (an improvement project delivered jointly by CELCIS and the Scottish Government) to a number of Local Authority areas in Scotland. The PACE project seeks to demonstrate active delivery of work from a multi-agency group to improve outcomes for looked after children.