MPs launch inquiry over legal aid for kinship carers
15 February 2022
Under current rules, friends and relatives are not able to access free, independent legal advice and representation when considering taking on the care of a child who cannot safely remain with their parents.
The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 removed virtually all private family law issues from the scope of legal aid, according to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Kinship Care.
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“In public law care proceedings, if a kinship carer is joined as a party to proceedings, they can apply for legal aid to be represented in the proceedings.
“However, many kinship carers are not parties to the proceedings, or do not have access to early legal advice to know that this is an option. Children’s services departments may make some funding available for prospective kinship carers to obtain legal advice but this varies and is most often very limited, ‘one-off’ advice,” the APPG said
In February 2019, the Ministry of Justice vowed to extend the scope of legal aid to cover special guardianship orders in private law by Autumn 2019 but this has not yet been delivered, it added.
Research published by the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care in 2020 found that three quarters of kinship carers feel they didn't have enough information about legal options to make an informed decision when taking on care of their kinship child.
Nearly one in three kinship carers felt that their kinship child was not subject to the right legal order for their needs.
A further 58 per cent said that they had incurred legal costs when taking on care of their kinship child.
The inquiry is seeking oral and written evidence from kinship carers, legal practitioners and others involved in kinship care on access to legal aid for kinship carers.
Andrew Gwynne MP, chair of the APPG and a special guardian, said: “Kinship carers are being asked to step in to avoid a child from remaining in, or entering into, the care system. By doing so they are providing a safe and loving home for a child in their family network.
“Yet they are often then left having to navigate a complex legal system and make huge decisions for their family without access to free, independent legal advice. Many end up in substantial debt as a result. And almost a third feel they do not have the right legal order for their child which has a significant impact on the support they can then access.
“The Ministry of Justice made some welcome commitments in 2019 but three years on progress has stalled. Our APPG’s inquiry will be examining this issue further, including the impact on families and the wider children’s social care and family justice system.”