Last month, Mentor embarked on an important new project that seeks to change the way that we support kinship care families in England – that is, those families where relatives take on the care of a child when their birth parents are unable to look after them
In partnership with a consortium of charities, comprising Grandparents Plus, 4Children and the Child Bereavement Network, we will develop an Early Help Model to improve outcomes for children in kinship care.
The beginning of any project is always exciting, especially when it will provide support to such an under-served group. However, we are particularly thrilled to be contributing to the development of the Early Help Model as it reflects the values and approach of Mentor in a number of key ways:
Championing the support of children who face multiple disadvantages
Firstly, Mentor has always championed the support of children and families who face exceptional challenges. Many children in kinship care have experienced trauma and bereavement; as a result they can suffer from attachment issues, exhibit ‘challenging behaviour’ and have difficulties in education and socialising – a recent survey by Grandparents Plus found that a high proportion of kinship care children have a disability or special needs, and 48% of carers report emotional and behavioural problems in the children they are looking after. These multiple disadvantages reduce the life chances of children in kinship care and make them susceptible to a range of risks, including alcohol and drug misuse.
Kinship carers make huge sacrifices in caring for children with complex needs – employment, family and social life, personal health – but often receive little support. 7 in 10 carers report feeling stressed, depressed or isolated as a result of navigating complex legal and financial dynamics, managing fraught relationships with birth parent(s) and coping with the stigma of kinship care – nearly half of carers have experienced discrimination from teachers, social workers or other parents.
Kinship carers play a vital role in providing a safe and nurturing family environment that allows children to thrive, but they remain underserved, with only a third of those that seek professional help receiving the support they need. To ensure the best outcomes for children who have had difficult early life experiences, we need to ensure that kinship families get the right support at the right time. The Early Help Model prioritises early intervention, enabling key agencies to provide support before situations reach crisis point.
Working with strategic partners to deliver a shared vision
Secondly, we are excited by the prospect of working in partnership with a number of major national charities to deliver a shared vision for supporting kinship families. Partnership work forms an important part of our organisation’s strategy, allowing Mentor, a small charity, to pack a big punch. By joining forces with local and national partners we can bring our work to scale, reaching greater numbers of young people, and also diversify the range of services we offer.
Several of our current projects have benefitted enormously from shared knowledge and expertise. Mentor established its highly successful Alcohol and Drug Education and Prevention Information Service with expert input from DrugScope and Adfam. Currently, our trial of the Good Behaviour Game is enhanced by the University of Manchester’s Institute of Education, who are independently evaluating the project, enabling us to derive quality-assured data on the effectiveness of the programme.
This collaboration is, therefore, a further demonstration of our belief that we are stronger when we work with together. In this instance, the project will benefit from the diverse expertise and combined capacity of four fantastic national charities. From previous partnership work with Grandparents Plus in particular, I am confident that this coalition will contribute to deliver an effective, holistic framework of support for kinship carers.
Building on experience – developing models of practice
Mentor has always endeavoured to use its experience of research and project delivery to improve and expand the reach of the services we provide for children and families. By assessing and evaluating our projects, we aim to learn from previous experience and to build effective, evidence-based practice that can be rolled out on a wider scale. Our involvement in the Early Help Model is particularly gratifying as it is a further iteration of our varied work with kinship carers in Scotland.
Since 2008, Mentor Scotland has provided a range of services to kinship carers: from information and guidance around finance and legal issues, to one-to-one family support; from training resources, to networks of support groups. Our participation in the Early Help Model reflects the strength of this work, and we are thrilled to be able to contribute seven years of evidence-based learning to this project.
By collaborating with Grandparents Plus, 4Children and the Child Bereavement Network, we are confident in being able to develop a comprehensive framework for supporting kinship carers in England. And with the combined capacity of four national charities, we look forward to seeing core elements of the good practice developed in Scotland scaled to many more families throughout the country.