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Kinship carers are grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles or family friends who step in to care for a child when they cannot be raised by their parents. They allow for a child to remain within a family and friends setting to avoid being placed in local authority care. Such an arrangement often arises where care proceedings have been issued as a result of the local authority having concerns about the care provided to a child.
Unlike those with parental responsibility, who have access to non-means tested legal aid throughout care proceedings, kinship carers are not automatically eligible for free legal advice. Unless a kinship carer has the financial means, the current system results in them being unable to access free legal advice, consequently leaving them in the dark about their rights in respect of the child they are caring for. In some cases, the local authority involved agree to fund a limited amount of legal advice, however we have found that this often is not offered until much later in the proceedings.
The process of being a kinship carer is complex, and the current system has recently been criticised by a recent APPG report as ‘undermining kinship care’. The report also found that 82% of kinship carers did not feel they knew enough about their legal options to make an informed decision about their kinship child, and 37% of kinship carers had made personal contributions to funding legal advice.
Kinship carers play an extremely important role, as they help maintain consistency and stability for a child who has most likely experienced trauma. Legal advice is essential to help matters progress and avoid the need for children being taken into care. President of the Law Society, I. Stephanie Boyce states that it would make ‘moral and financial sense’ for non-means tested legal aid to be made available. The APPG report has therefore recommended that there be non-means and non-merits tested ‘legal help’ advice available to support carers throughout the full assessment process and to extend the scope of legal aid to prospective kinship carers. Read the report in full here.
At Ramsdens, our experienced Care team are frequently contacted by kinship carers who have been offered funding by their respective local authority at what is often a late stage in the proceedings. We are therefore supportive of the proposals outlined in the APPG report and would welcome changes so that kinship carers have greater access to free legal advice.
June 30, 2022
Joanne is a Partner and Heads the Care department.