I wish to ask the Minister a few questions about the clause. In previous discussions, some of us have voiced our concern that kinship care is not always given enough cash support when it is most needed. The clause is important because it opens the door to more payments. The problem is that I can see that there will be great variation in local authorities’ use of the removal from section 17(6) of the 1989 Act of “in exceptional circumstances”. I would be worried if there were to be no regulations and guidance on the provision, to ensure that we are truly promoting kinship care.
I seem to hear more and more from professionals that there are barriers to kinship care because money is not available at the vital time. Although I appreciate that the clause offers more, I would like an assurance that it will make a difference and will support what everybody wants, which is that that where kinship care is appropriate, it is given every support and encouragement possible.
I thank the hon. Lady for that question. She is right: the intention in clarifying the provision is to alleviate local authorities’ confusion about how much flexibility they have in providing financial support to promote children’s welfare and their upbringing by members of their family or friends. It is important to say that that does not mean that local authorities can be expected to provide income maintenance for families—I made that point earlier in our discussions. It is important that the lines are clear on where families need to go for that sort of income maintenance and on whom the additional costs for taking in a child, who is perhaps a member of the family, lie. It is important that it is clear that those costs are appropriate for local authorities to consider meeting.
We will produce guidance, which will make it plain that families are expected to take full advantage of the sources of financial support available to them. The guidance will also set out examples of additional costs that families will incur. Obviously we expect families to apply for child benefit and other state benefits that relate to caring for children, but the clause will enable local authorities to meet the transitional costs of taking in children.
I am going for belt and braces here, because I am sure that there will be consultation on that guidance, but may I have assurances that there will be consultation on that guidance, because I think that the input of bodies that have made representations to us would be helpful in ensuring that we have coverage. I appreciate the point made in our previous debate about not supporting general family costs.
We will consult on all the guidance that we produce, so we will consult on that as well. We want to remove local authorities’ confusion and to enable them to make payments to families and kinship carers in a way that they have felt constrained from doing in the past. I hope that the hon. Lady is happy with my assurance.