On Tuesday 14th June, Mentor welcomed delegates from across Scotland to Dundas Castle to participate in a conference entitled, Getting it Right for Kinship Families. The aim of the day was to bring together policymakers and practitioners to share good practice, to discuss the possible challenges related to the implementation of the Children and Young People Act, and to think about how innovation and community partnership could enhance the way we support kinship care families.
Once attendees had arrived from as far afield as Highland and Shetland, the event was opened by the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald MSP. The morning held further presentations from the Scottish Children’s Report Administration, who outlined kinship carers’ rights around children’s hearings; the Scottish Government “looked after” team, who discussed various issues relating to the implementation of Part 13 of the Children and Young People Act; and Mentor Scotland’s Director, Heather McVeigh, who spoke about different approaches to kinship care support, including an overview of Mentor’s Families Together programme.
The event then sparked into life when delegates took part in the day’s first workshop, sharing what works and discussing the challenges faced in kinship care support. Despite concerns around resources and capacity, there was evidence of a range of good practice in the room – from peer support models to wrap-around family support, and effective partnership work to strategies for engaging with “hidden carers”.
Inspired by a presentation from Caryn Kerr of Big Hearts Community Trust, who demonstrated the impact of Hearts of Midlothian Football Club’s partnership with Mentor to support kinship families in their community, delegates then considered ways to maximise local resources and organisations in the day’s second workshop. Then, after a well-earned lunch break, attendees were treated to a performance from Mentor’s Kinship Samba Band. As well as invigorating the audience, the young people involved also spoke of their experience in the drumming workshop, showing how such initiatives, while they may appear small, can have a huge impact on young people in kinship care.
After the day’s final presentation from Citizens Advice Scotland, the final workshop asked practitioners to outline their vision for a national service for kinship care families. A swathe of suggestions ensued on how the government should shape its national service; some of the most consistent comments included:
- Clear information, accessible in a range of formats – website, helpline, resource pack – and signposted by universal services, such as GPs and schools.
- Training for kinship carers, particularly focusing on teenage years; and training and information to improve awareness and understanding of kinship care among professionals.
- A national body of kinship carers, or ‘kinship champions’, to foreground the views of kinship families, and to establish peer support and mentoring networks.
- Counselling and therapeutic support, and contact centres to facilitate parental contact.
For Mentor, the day was a great success, with the workshops in particular generating some really useful insight from practitioners and loads of inspiration for us to take our kinship care work forward. And from the feedback received, it seems like it was a valuable experience for those who attended too. While there is a degree of uncertainty and anxiety around changes to kinship care policy and practice in Scotland, there is also a great deal of energy and passion. The conference left Mentor – and hopefully all the delegates – feeling optimistic about moving forward and working together to ensure the best outcomes for children and young people in kinship care.