New research has outlined the financial and emotional impact of poverty on a family when a child enters care.
Scottish charities have urged the government to prioritise work which could improve the chances of reuniting children in the care system with their families.
New research commissioned by The Promise Scotland and conducted by One Parent Families Scotland (OPFS) with support from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) reveals the detrimental financial and emotional impact of poverty on a family when a child enters care.
The work outlines the effects of them returning from care, as well as a gap in policy responses and service delivery.
The report, Poverty-proofing for families in or on the edges of care, is based on extensive research into the link between poverty and care, online surveys and focus groups with parents with experience of the care system and interviews with professionals across the voluntary and statutory sectors over an 18-month period.
Evidence from The Care Review shows that families living in poverty are at increased risk of coming into contact with the care system in the first place.
The new research shows that parents already living in poverty and reliant on social security support face even further financial hardship when their child is taken into care, due to a sudden, significant, and often unexpected reduction in income, resulting from an almost immediate withdrawal of family-related benefits.
This not only pushes parents into debt and in some cases causes them to become homeless, but crucially, reduces their ability to offer their children a safe and nurturing home to return to.
Satwat Rehman, OPFS chief executive, said: “The overarching ambition of The Scottish Government in its commitment to Keep the Promise for care experienced children, young people and their families is to keep families together where it is safe to do so and to provide the support that is required to make this happen.
“Providing young people with the opportunity to return to a safe and economically stable family environment is therefore central to achieving this ambition.
“The experiences of parents who took part in our research illustrate that policies and practices that were intended to protect and improve the lives of children can actually lead to increased financial hardship for their parents, reducing the likelihood of reunification between parent and child or prolonging the child’s stay in care.
“It is counter intuitive to withdraw financial support from families when there is emerging evidence pointing to the fact that financial assistance can actually increase the rate of reunification of a child with their family.
“Now is the time to invest in actions to mitigate the worst effects of corrosive policies which stand in the way of delivering on the aspirations of The Promise: that children in Scotland ‘will grow up loved, safe and respected’.”
Consultations with parents involved with the research reveal a lack of appropriate practical and emotional support to help parents navigate the sudden change in circumstances during a time when they are simultaneously engaging with child protection and planning processes connected with their children, with many parents reporting experiences of shock, stigma and shame.
The research highlights the barriers that prevent parents from being reunited with their children, with some parents being allocated a one-bedroom property as they were now classed as ‘single occupant’ and other parents living on an income intended only for themselves whilst waiting for several weeks after being reunited with their children for their full benefit entitlement to be reinstated.
Fraser McKinlay, CEO of The Promise Scotland, said: “I am pleased that The Promise Scotland has been able to support this important research carried out by OPFS. It addresses a blind spot in the system about what happens to family finances when a child or children are unable to live at home and are taken into care.
“The research highlights the negative impact that this can have, and families that are pushed further into poverty are less likely to be reunited. This runs contrary to the core message of the promise, which asks Scotland to better support families to keep children at home wherever it is safe to do so.
“The promise will not be kept unless more is done to address the pervasive impact of poverty upon Scotland’s children and families. The Promise Scotland stands ready to work with all stakeholders, at Scotland and UK level, to support the work required to implement the recommendations.
“All families experience difficult times and need help to navigate troubled waters. I expect this research, and most importantly its recommendations, to be absorbed and acted upon so that effective scaffolding is built up to support families, allowing all of Scotland’s children to thrive.”