Private Member’s Business
David McClarty (Independent)
: Thank you, Mr speaker is in charge of proceedings of the House of Commons in..." class="glossary">Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to take part in the debate.
Although kinship care is a relatively new term, the concept is very much older. It is not uncommon now, or indeed in generations past, that grandparents or older siblings, for example, assumed the role of a parent to a child whose own parents, for whatever reason, were unable to fulfil that obligation. That does not make the role any less important; on the contrary, kinship care plays a valuable role in providing care for many children who are unable to live with their parents, whether in the short or long term.
It is also important to point out that kinship care can occur in circumstances as simple as those of a parent falling ill, with grandparents assuming care. It is not always a reaction to extreme and difficult situations. I appreciate the fact that the Department is working on a strategy to address the issues surrounding kinship care, but to date there is limited research. I urge the Department and the Assembly to explore kinship care extensively. We have an obligation to acknowledge and support the valuable contribution of kinship carers in our community.
There are several reasons why kinship care is the preferred option, but the welfare of a child should always be central to the debate. That is not to say that other reasons are not valid and should not be taken into account. Savings to the public purse are significant. The financial aid provided to kinship carers by the state is substantially less than, for example, that to children in residential care. Kinship care also eases the pressure to find suitable foster-parents, of which there is a shortfall.
I go back to the linchpin of the debate, which is the welfare of a child. Of course, kinship care will not be for everyone, and in some situations it suits that a child be placed elsewhere. Everyone accepts that individual needs will be assessed and the right outcome put in place for specific circumstances. However, in cases in which there is an option, kinship care should be prioritised, and I support the motion for the Department to consider amending the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 to ensure that.
It is important to point out why kinship care is the preferred option, and many Members have already done that. I will reiterate some of those points to ensure that we highlight the positive role that kinship care plays. Uprooting children for whatever reason is unsettling. It is important to maintain a smooth transition and ensure that their sense of identity and belonging is not interrupted. Kinship care is the only option that will nurture that. Kinship care provides greater stability because children are placed with people whom they already know and are more likely to be placed with siblings and maintain regular contact with birth parents and members of the extended family. That is important because most cases of kinship care are temporary, and it is expected that a child will return to his or her parents. Maintaining close contact will facilitate that. Kinship care can also be an effective form of early intervention because it avoids children being taken into formal care. The existing family connection and bond mean that kinship carers love the children and will do anything and everything to protect them and place their needs above all others. I have not exhausted the positives of kinship care, whether stand-alone or compared with other forms of care. I think that that only goes to prove why it should be given priority.
There is another side to the debate, which concerns the support already provided by the state. Over 700 children in Northern Ireland are in formal kinship care arrangements. It is speculated that 5,000 and possibly up to 10,000 children are living in informal kinship care arrangements. That is a huge difference at either end of the scale, and it suggests that there is an issue involving the state. Of course, informal kinship care arrangements are populated with those who do not want and/or do not need financial or non-financial support, or because the arrangement is very short term. Others, however, are reluctant to involve the state because of the bureaucracy and perceived interrogation that is involved.
I know that I have almost run out of time. I support the motion.