MLAs praise NW care campaigner
A LONDONDERRY mother who wants grandparents and other family members to be paid more by the state for caring for children on behalf of their parents has been praised for highlighting the issue at Stormont.
Jacqueline Williamson - a mother of two from Londonderry - is the founder of Kinship Care NI, a charity championing the cause of family members who look after child relatives with very little support from the state.
Her work was recognised at a recent debate at Stormont during which MLAs from all over Northern Ireland thanked Ms Williamson for highlighting the issue.
Ms Williamson has pointed out that in 2001 5,200 children in Northern Ireland were being raised by family members who were not their parents but that is likely to be much higher.
She has also shown that less than one third (29 per cent) of looked-after children in Northern Ireland live with kin.
Last March that amounted to 717 children and the number of looked-after children placed with relatives and family friends increased by 53 per cent between 2009 and 2011.
Equally between 2010 and 2011 almost £30 million was spent on foster care here including kinship care.
At a Stormont evidence session Ms Williamson estimated there are likely to be between 8,000 and 10,000 children in unrecognised kinship care.
“The vast majority of children in informal kinship care are unlikely to have any contact with social services. Some children will be known to social services within the context of family support, but they are not formally looked after by the state,” she commented.
Her argument was that the recognition of kinship care and the proper payment and support of people who provide it will result in huge savings to the state.
“It costs at least £100,000 a year for a child to be in residential care, whereas maintenance allowances for children in formal kinship care are less than £10,000 a year.
“Extending support to informal kinship care arrangements is likely to result in fewer children entering residential care, with a significant saving to the public purse. I will finish there; I am happy to take any questions,” she said.
Now the issue has been formally raised in the Stormont Assembly with local politicians supporting a motion welcoming the growth of kinship care and acknowledging the valuable role it plays in providing care for the many children who cannot be raised by their parents.
Politicians also called on the Minister of Health to note the excellent and often invisible contribution made by kinship carers, to identify a number of key priorities and actions for their support and to consider amending the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 in support of kinship carers.
Ms Williamson’s work was roundly praised by MLAs during the debate on the motion.
DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen said paid “tribute to the efforts of Jacqueline Williamson from Kinship Care NI for her tireless work in putting the issue on the agenda.”
Her party Colleague Jim Wells joined the tributes saying: “I have to be absolutely honest and say that, even though I have been a member of the Health Committee for quite a long time, I had never heard the phrase ‘kinship care’ until I received a letter from Jacqueline.
“She then came to meet me. I was lobbied intensely for an hour on the subject. I must say that my knowledge of the subject grew dramatically in that 60 minutes.
“Much of what has been discussed today by honourable Members is almost entirely the result of information that has been supplied by Jacqueline and her organisation.
“That is a very interesting example of what can be achieved by one dedicated individual who has genuine concern on an issue. With very little support and funding, she has achieved so much in such a short time.”
Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey said: “Like the mover of the motion, I want to thank Jacqueline Williamson and a number of other kinship carers who have taken the lead and championed the cause for a short time.
“Thankfully, those people were prepared to take the lead. They came at it with an array of experience, but they also struggled with it greatly. The Minister is coming into the Chamber now.
“I certainly hope that, at some stage, Kinship Care Northern Ireland will get more capacity and that his Department will find a way to provide money to enable it to deliver its programme.
“Awareness and the availability of information are important, because, in many respects, kinship carers become parents when they take on that role. So they need access to information, and I make a direct appeal to the Minister to ensure that that is provided.”
Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy supported Ms Williamson’s contention that children in kinship care ‘maintain an important sense of identity and belonging,’ ‘have greater placement stability because they live with people whom they already know’ and is ‘an effective form of early intervention because it avoids the need to place children in the formal care system.’
“However, it seems very unfair that youngsters who are looked after in an informal setting find it much more difficult to receive sufficient support for this vital assistance. Kinship care represents a cost-effective way to help and support youngsters who might otherwise end up in residential care or other institutions, costing, I understand, anything up to £2,000 a week,” he said.
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