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Putting kinship care in the picture.

Assessment in Kinship Crae Cath Talbot and Martin C Calder (eds) Russell House Publishing 2006 150 Pages 24.95[pounds sterling]

This anthology is a welcome addition to the sparse literature on kinship care in the UK. Unlike other available texts, it does not only analyse and promote the advantages of keeping children in their own kinship network; it also seriously explores the risks of re-placing or leaving children in their families of origin if they cannot or should not remain with their parents. In our desire to keep children out of the public care system, it can be tempting to misinterpret unacceptable risks as cultural variations, or to overlook the specific complexities of each kinship care situation. This collection of essays should prove an invaluable aid to working with the kinship network to assess the viability of kinship care and to creating sustainable placement support plans.

All the contributors stress that assessing potential or existing kinship carers is not the same as working with applicants who wish to foster or adopt. There is a good overview of research evidence, of the advantages and disadvantages of kinship care and a critique of contemporary assessment tools. An excellent legal section is liberally illustrated with case histories, which make the issues come alive; unfortunately, it seems to have been written before the latest raft of regulations came into force. Thought-provoking chapters on intellectual disabilities, domestic violence, substance misuse and sexual abuse challenge many of our conventional views on class and culture and examine the effects on children of familial and inter-generational systems. The last section looks ahead towards a more sensitive, evidence-based framework for working with kinship carers to fill the gaps in current assessment structures.

The very complex question of contact with birth relatives might have been dealt with in greater detail: we are given a comprehensive review of the literature but little guidance about the role of the support worker or any practical ways of managing contact when there are family rivalries, alliances and hostilities or matters of safety to consider. Sadly, all the authors have largely ignored friends as part of the kinship network and as potential carers --but perhaps this is another topic requiring a separate response.

Children who have been traumatised, who have suffered separations and losses, are not going to be easy to bring up even if they remain in their own families. They will carry their problems with them wherever they go and that includes kinship placements. Kinship care is not an easy option; preparing, assessing and supporting kinship carers is neither simpler nor more complicated than other family placement work, but it is different. This book should go a long way towards helping us to acknowledge that difference so that we can work together with families to keep children safe in the kinship network.

Although the individual contributions are well written, the format is not very user friendly: double columns and small print make for hard work. Nevertheless, I hope that readers will persevere and that they will find it well worth the effort.

Helen Hibbert

Helen Hibbert is Strategic Director, Partnership for Young London
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Title Annotation:'Assessment in Kinship'
Author:Argent, Hedi
Publication:Adoption & Fostering
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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