Stormont to debate kinship carers

ON the day of an important debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Fostering Network is calling on the Government to launch a public awareness campaign to ensure kinship carers get the essential advice and support they need.

At a point of crisis when a child can no longer live with its birth parents, their families do not always have access to important information about the range of options available. This means they and the child could miss out on vital help and support they are entitled to receive.

Getting access to the right support is essential as many of these children will have emotional and behavioural difficulties, special educational needs or a physical disability. And the family members who may look after them are more likely to be older or living in poverty.

Often the best option that could be available is formal kinship care, where the child could qualify for services that all children in care receive. The relative looking after the child could also access the finances, practical support and training on offer to foster carers.

Around 30 per cent of the 2,500 children and young people in care in Northern Ireland now live with family relatives in a formal kinship care arrangement, a 53 per cent increase since 2009.

Today’s debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly, sponsored by Michelle McIlveen MLA, will discuss kinship care and the current levels of support on offer.

Margaret Kelly, director of the Fostering Network Northern Ireland, said: “We welcome today’s debate, which is timely given the rise in formal kinship care arrangements and the rising number of referrals to children’s services.

“As the vast majority of formal kinship carers in Northern Ireland are our members we know how valuable they find access to the extra support available. The financial and practical support, as well as training and advice, makes a huge difference.

“However, we know too many families don’t have access to the right information at that challenging and critical time. A public awareness campaign would be an important step forward in ensuring these families are well informed and can make the right decision for them and the children.”