We need to fully recognise ‘kinship care’ within Ireland, says Kinship Care Ireland Co-ordinator LAURA DUNLEAVY

Kinship Care Ireland, Coordinator Laura Dunleavy.

A STARTING point is to ask and explain what is Kinship Care?

Kinship Care is when children are cared for by a relative, or close family friend when a parent is unable to. This can be for a wide range of reasons such as parental illness, imprisonment, abandonment, substance misuse, capacity, abuse, or death.

This is neither a new nor unusual family circumstance in Ireland, as there are currently an estimated 10,000 children living in Kinship Care. Yet despite this, this type of family is not formally recognised or supported in welfare payments, or social services.

With so many people affected, it seems hard to believe, but this is true and needs to change.

Many of these families are invisible and access to essential legal, financial, health, educational and emotional supports are an unacceptable challenge.

Kinship Care Ireland (KCI) is the only representative and support group working in this area and is committed to providing leadership in achieving recognition, rights, and social structures for these families and children.

Kinship Care is currently a live political issue as in February, 2023, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child specifically called on the Irish Government to ‘develop a policy on the rights of children in informal Kinship Care’.

Following this, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman gave a commitment to work this year on a policy. It is now time to get this work fully underway and to implement it.

There are two different categories of Kinship Care – and new policy must recognise all circumstances.

Formal Kinship Care is when there is an arrangement in place that is known to social services, such as when a relative has gone through a Foster Care Assessment and is eligible for some social supports and welfare payments.

Informal Kinship Care is when there isn’t a formal arrangement with social services in place. For these families there is no recognised pathway to financial, legal, therapeutic supports, peer support, advocacy or sign-posting.

Internationally, Formal Kinship Care and Informal Kinship Care are identified as ‘Alternative Care’ – and both are formally recognised within social welfare and social support systems.

What we are aiming to achieve here in Ireland is full recognition and a policy for kinship care in all circumstances, particularly informal arrangements.

Families in formal Kinship Care are entitled to the Foster Carers payment (€325 per week per child and an increase when the child turns 12, this payment is rightfully due to increase by €75 in September 2024).

Families in informal Kinship Care can apply for the Guardian’s payment (€203 per week per child with no increase), processing time is lengthy, involves appeals and many applications are refused. The rate of the Guardian’s payment needs to be increased to avoid poverty.

In 2022 under 2,500 payments of Guardian’s payment were made, this means an estimated 8,000 children are in receipt of no financial support to meet their caring needs. Many kinship carers are fulfilling this fulltime caring role on their State pension.

We are seeking understanding, engagement and support among Government TDs, opposition TDs, Senators and across all parties and Independents. We are also engaging with and keeping the urgency on Minister O’Gorman’s scoping exercise and policy development.

Specific elements which need to be developed are:

  • 1. Recognition of the specific circumstances of Kinship Care families: Families need access to therapeutic and trauma informed support in ‘parenting a child with trauma’, peer spaces, legal advice, accessible and sufficient financial support, housing support and signposting of information and resources.
  • 2. Welfare Support for all Informal Kinship Carers: Timely access for Informal Kinship Carers to welfare payment (the Guardians payment) without delay or appeals.
  • 3. Access to Social Care: All Kinship Carers need access to community based Social Care for the initial period of taking the role, and should have ongoing points of contact for if future challenges arise.
  • 4. Medical: Streamlined access to Medical Card and trauma recovery supports and assessments/support services where required.
  • 5. Respite: The majority of Kinship Carers are grandparents and need access to respite services.
  • 6. International best practice: Ireland’s policy should adapt learning from best international models particularly those from the US, Aotearoa New Zealand, UK, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
  • 7. Data: Development of a national data system to gather and track Kinship Care.

Research both in Ireland and internationally has identified that due to the complexity of reasons that often lead to Kinship Care there is a disproportionate incidence of poverty among Kinship Care families – as well as of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, trauma, bereavement and separation, mental health illness, substance misuse and hidden harm.

Kinship families are an invisible family type and need to be valued for the important role they play in keeping children from going into State care and saving the State millions of euros.

Many kinship carers are older grandparents, with poor health. Without adequate support kinship carers are worried they may have to give up the care of the children.

Change needs to happen and with urgency.

Full recognition of all circumstances of Kinship Care, and a pathway to financial and service supports, will provide much needed security for kinship families and help them to thrive.

Kinship Care Ireland is hosted by the charity Treoir. Any person seeking information or support can contact Kinship Care Ireland at: www.kinshipcare.ie / info@kinshipcare.ie / 087 148 7124.