Should there be free legal aid for kinship carers?
NICOLA JONES-KING >
Head of Family & Child LawFri 20 May 2022
Kinship Care is when a child lives full-time or most of the time with a relative or friend who isn’t their parent, usually because their parents are unable to care for them.
From England and Wales, the APPG found out that:
- 82% of kinship carers did not feel they knew enough about their legal options to make an informed decision about the best options for their kinship child.
- 35% said they were not satisfied with their current legal arrangement for their kinship child
- 38% kinship carers had not received any legal advice about their rights and option for their kinship child.
- For those who had experience of court proceedings in relation to their kinship children, 30% had to represent themselves at least for some of the time.
- 37% of kinship carers had made personal contribution to the costs of legal advice, court frees and legal representation. Of those carers: 47% had costs up to £1000, 27% between £1000 and £5000, 16% between £5000 and £10,000 and 9% in excess of £10,000.
The report highlights the importance of kinship carers being able to access legal advice at an early stage of the process of them being assessed to care for children. Being able to speak to solicitors, to advise them on how to approach court proceedings is key.
Many family carers find themselves in a minefield of already ongoing court proceedings following social services removing the children from their parents, to which they are not parties and are unsure how to best pursue court applications, leaving many feelings very much on the outside.
It further highlights the importance of legal advice so that kinship carers get the right support financially to be able to meet the needs of the children. Their reports recommends that legal aid should be made available without assessment of means to all kinship carers so that they can get this crucial advice and be represented.
The key problems identified being a lack of advice on entitlements to support, and struggling to understand the legal process, while also in many cases having just taken on care of children and needing to deal with their practical and emotional needs.
Head of our Children & Family Department, Nicola Jones King submitted evidence to the enquiry and was able to attend the remote launch of the report.
She said that: “this is a report which highlights something all of us involved in family justice are acutely aware of. The work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group and the Family Rights Group in gathering evidence making it clear and practical recommendations will hopefully be listened to, so that changes can be made to the legal aid scheme to get the right assistance to family members who are considering or who have taken on the care of children with their family meaning their commitment is recognised and the right support is put in place for them children.”
“It is clear from a number of pieces of research that children placed within their wider family when they cannot be with their parents have better outcomes and better futures than children who remain in foster care. Therefore, the role of kinship carers is absolutely crucial, and it is only right that they should be able to access legal advice.”
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