As you campaign to become an MP, please take a minute to consider children in kinship care and their carers in your constituency. You may never have heard the term before, but chances are high you know at least one kinship carer, or someone who grew up in kinship care.
Kinship carers are family and friends who step in to care for children whose parents are unable to look after them. It is estimated that there are 200,000 children being brought up in kinship families in the UK – that’s roughly three times the number of children in foster care – and it is increasing.
Kinship care is one of the main ways to provide a sense of security, continuity and belonging for children who cannot live with their parents. Kinship carers do the right thing by stepping in to prevent children from growing up in the care system, but they tell us that they feel isolated, abandoned and ‘hung out to dry’ compared to the support foster carers and adoptive parents receive. Most commonly grandparents, they are older, poorer and in worse health than any other group raising children. 74% say they don’t get the financial support they need.
In our recent survey of over 1,100 kinship carers 53% told us they took on the children in a crisis situation with no notice and little time or access to independent information, advice or support. Only later did they realise that the support they and their children could receive is determined by the child’s legal order – it is often discretionary and it can be means tested, time limited or cut for good.
Hannah* looks after her three grandchildren, who have different legal orders. The oldest has attachment issues and would benefit from therapeutic support, however his legal order means he doesn’t qualify for it. The middle child does qualify for therapeutic support as a result of her legal order – however she is brain-damaged and has the level of understanding of a 7 month baby so wouldn’t benefit from it. Like many kinship carers, for Hannah it couldn’t be clearer that support is being determined by legal order and not by the needs of the child.
Kinship carers say the lack of financial, practical and emotional support for their role has had a negative impact on their physical and mental health. Worryingly, one-third say they are concerned about their ability to continue. If they can’t there’s a real risk that many more children will enter the care system.
While there are pockets of good work being done by local authorities, support for kinship carers is too often a postcode lottery. Why? Because the Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on Family and Friends Care is just that – guidance. It sets out what local authorities should do, not what they must do.
It’s clear that the guidance is not working. But it makes sense to invest in kinship care now. Kinship care is part of the solution to the rising number of children in care and recent research found that outcomes for young people in kinship care are generally better than for those in the care system.
The national government needs to take a lead – it needs to set out a national offer of support for kinship families, including financial support and practical support for carers and children. It needs to ensure adequate funding for local authorities and the voluntary sector to deliver that support. And it needs to do this now.
This is why we are calling on you to join your fellow candidates and pledge your support for kinship families if you are elected to the next parliament.
Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus
* not her real name