Let me begin by welcoming the new shadow Front-Bench team to their respective roles, and in particular Mrs Hodgson, whom I look forward to working with on the whole of my portfolio, as we did on special educational needs in the past. I am sure she, along with the rest of the House, would agree that kinship carers play a pivotal role in caring for many children who cannot live with their parents. That is why during the previous Parliament we issued family and friends care statutory guidance for local authorities, which makes it clear that every council should publish a family and friends care policy setting out how it will support the needs of children living with kinship carers, whether or not they are looked after. Some 83% of English local authorities now have a published policy, compared with 42% in 2012, and I intend to write again to councils on this issue.
I know the Minister will recognise the important role that kinship carers are taking, many of whom are the grandparents of those for whom they have responsibility. Their caring responsibilities prevent them from working full-time. What assistance can my hon. Friend give to grandparents who happen to be kinship carers to support them further in their caring duties?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the important and often crucial role that working grandparents play in proving childcare and supporting working families. As a Government we recognise that fact. That is why we have announced plans to extend the current system of shared parental pay and leave to cover working grandparents, thereby providing much greater choice for families trying to balance childcare and work. We will bring forward legislation to enable this change with the aim of implementing it by 2018.
Carers save the taxpayer a great deal of money, as well as often being the best option for the children they are looking after, so in addition to the publication by local authorities of their practice, will the Minister ensure that those local authorities have the resources they need to support kinship carers, both to save the taxpayer money and to do what is right for the carers and the children in the short as well as longer term?
We have taken such a strong interest in these issues for all the reasons that the hon. Gentleman set out, because kinship carers are performing a role that would otherwise have to be performed by the state. That is why, whether through the discretionary housing fund or through the work that we are doing with the Family Rights Group and others to encourage family group conferences, we are trying to help those families where at all possible to keep children living with them, thereby helping to save not only taxpayers’ money, but those children’s futures.
Given the significant financial pressure from placement breakdown on the formal fostering system, will the Minister support a kinship reform grant, similar to the adoption reform grant, which has a significant impact, to show that the Government are matching the intent with the money to support kinship care?
My hon. Friend will be aware of the already impressive impact the adoption support fund has had on helping families trying to care for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. It is clear that such a positive approach across the board will help many other families struggling in similar circumstances to bring about those excellent outcomes. The special guardianship review, which is under way, and the improvements to social work reform will help to deliver better pre- and post-placement support for all those children who need it.
At my last surgery I had two families who were taking on kinship responsibilities. They have less ongoing support than adoptive parents. Will the Government ensure that they get support equal to that which adoptive parents receive?
In the previous answer, on the support that we have offered on adoption, I touched on some of the other support that is available to kinship carers in their own local authority area. That is why through Ofsted inspections of local authorities and through the family and friends statutory guidance we have made sure that there is a greater emphasis on the support that we know works for kinship carers. More importantly, the announcement on shared parental leave will help many of those families who have a grandparent who works and who is helping with childcare, by providing the flexibility they need to have a much better balance between having a family and having good childcare in place.
I was privileged to meet a group of kinship carers, along with the Family Rights Group, in Parliament a couple of weeks ago. They told me that the Government’s changes to welfare might have an unintended consequence by deterring people from taking up kinship care, because many look after more than three children. What assessment has the Minister made of the likely impact of changes to tax credits on this group of people, who are doing such fantastic work?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that we have the right support in place for kinship carers and that any changes are thought through carefully, and that is exactly what we have done. He will know that the two-child policy is not being introduced until April 2017, and that any extra support that kinship carers receive from their local authority is disregarded when it comes to the benefit cap. Extra support is available in exceptional circumstances to protect kinship carers from those changes from April 2017. All these things have been thought through, but of course we are happy to consider them as they are implemented.