Putting family first in child protection decisions

Putting family first in child protection decisions

When children cannot be cared for by their parents, would they prefer to go live with people they don’t know, or a family member that they know and like? 

The answer is obvious, and research with children has backed up the assumption that children often prefer to live with other family members (known as kinship care) over foster care or state-run homes. This research is cited in our recent report ‘The Paradox of Kinship Care’. 

Sometimes kinship care happens informally, for example when a parent moves for work and the child moves in with a grandparent for continuity of education. But in other circumstances, for example, when a child is taken out of parental care by the courts, foster care or a children’s home can often be the knee-jerk response of the state, sometimes harming bonds with their extended biological family forever.

Although not all children would have a kinship care option, many would – especially if it were supported appropriately by the state, by providing financial support to them in the same way that they do for foster carers. 

In circumstances where it would work, it is a travesty that children are denied the opportunity to stay within their family and instead moved into state care. It is true that well-implemented foster care can also provide a caring, family-based environment for children; but the chance for children to remain with their extended biological family (when appropriate) has been shown to have a positive impact on children’s lives that should not be brushed aside. Where possible and desirable, staying within the extended family can also make reintegration with biological parents smoother, too.

In some countries – notably the US, UK, New Zealand and Australia – policy decisions have been made to prioritise kinship care where the option is available. This choice has been driven by concerns about the shortcomings of both residential and foster care; a strong belief in the value of family-based care; and a desire to save money – but ultimately, these policies are helping to prioritise kinship care. 

In many other countries, kinship care is not prioritised in child protection policies or those policies are not consistently applied. In some countries, policy could make a positive difference to children’s lives. In others, decisions about child welfare are made without engagement from the state by families and communities and therefore it might be more vital to prioritise research into kinship care first. 

At Family for Every Child, we are leading a range of work to strengthen kinship care in a number of countries around the globe. Part of this is to advocate so that kinship care is properly recognised as a viable – and preferred – care option; ensuring that, where appropriate, governments put the appropriate policies and procedures in place to make it happen. By doing so, children who have a family member who can take care of them will be able to remain part of their family, even when their parents aren’t around.

changemakersforchildren.communityIf you work with children and families and would like to join our call for better support for kinship care, join our online community of Changemakers and connect with us. Visit changemakersforchildren.community  to sign up now.

familyforeverychild.org/kinshipcareLearn more about our kinship care work at familyforeverychild.org/kinshipcare

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