A case in the UK has demonstrated the risks associated with using the wrong criteria to determine what is in the best interests of children. In this case, an assessor determined that children should not be placed with extended family as a move to a northerly area of the UK would be a difficult transition for the children. The factor? Growing up in the south meant that they would have a different accent. A BBC report stated, "But they were put into care after a social worker "feared their southern accents would leave them isolated". Fortunately, the aunt fought the decision in court and the children are now with her.
This case illustrates that, as we make decisions about the needs of children, we should be well grounded in what really matters. If a kinship placement is available, and it is a good enough placement, then it should be considered a high probability for use. Research does tell us that kinship placements are a good support for children as they send a strong message about the role of family.
One legitimate consideration that this case might need is how and when the biological mother was going to have contact with the children if that is appropriate. That may not over ride the kinship placement in many cases but it is an example of the factors that need to be included in planning for kinship placements. There are other factors as well. An example is whether kinship can work with child protection to focus on the needs of the children and not get enmeshed with the parents sabotaging the child protection actions. Yet, the majority if kinship carers, who will struggle with the divided loyalty between the relative parent and the children, will work with CPS for the sake of the children.
As I have talked about in an earlier blog, grandparents are a strong force in caring for children. In addition, we now see that informal care arrangements use kinship a great deal of the time - extended family helps out parents who are struggling. That has been going on for generations and represents a normal familial response. We should not suggest that the presence of child protection should be a barrier in using such normal connections when they are available.
The aunt in this case should be congratulated for standing up for her niece and nephew. Let us use the lesson to ensure that the right factors are upper most in assessors minds as they make recommendations for children.
A study just published in the British Journal of Social Work also tells us that the voice of the child matters, although one wonders why this is news. The author states, "Also, there is a repeated failure amongst professionals to pay sufficient attention to what children and young people may be saying about their own needs and experiences." In my experience, in kinship matters, children will typically seek to be with family.
The BBC story can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-14045195