“It’s making me ill with worry, the unknown, nothing to look forward to, the worry of how I can feed the kids if my hubby becomes ill or myself, we work as a team and wouldn’t be able to cope”
“What will happen to my granddaughter if we fall ill?”
Last week Grandparents Plus sent a message to our kinship community to find out how kinship carers were coping with the rapidly changing situation and identify gaps in support. Their responses will help us inform service providers and decision makers of the issues facing kinship carers and help us adapt our support to ensure we are responding to the changing needs of kinship families.
Within days we had almost 200 responses. The following is taken from 195 responses submitted 18 –21 March 2020.
Kinship carers told us:
Their main concern is what happens to the children if they get coronavirus, with 81 carers raising this in their responses. Within this is an overwhelming sense of anxiety not simply of what happens if they die (though this is a frequent concern) but also how will they cope if they are ill, how can they manage to look after the children, who can help if they’re isolated, even for a few carers – will the children be removed from their care if they get ill or because they are in an at risk group?
The second largest area of concern, raised in 38 responses is financial. Many mentioned hours already being cut and jobs being lost, many carers fear how they will be able to continue to work now schools have closed. They are also worried about how they can cope with their already very limited resources when their children will no longer be receiving free school meals but will instead be housebound leading to higher energy bills and other expenditure.
Overall though there is also a sense of confusion, and some frustration about not having clear guidance on what is happening and what might happen, especially on what social isolation actually means and how they can do this properly while taking their children to school (although of course now this not be a concern for most families), family members working and maintaining contact arrangements.
In conclusion, kinship carers are amongst the individuals most impacted by coronavirus. They are likely to be older, with existing health conditions but due to their kinship care responsibilities have been unable to adequately self-isolate. Many are financially vulnerable with uncertain employment, and an already stretched budget.
Now schools have been closed, many will find the additional resources and energy needed to manage the full-time care of children with no respite and limited support difficult. There have been some reassurances about support that will be provided especially to those who must fully quarantine, but carers so far have felt confused, isolated and anxious and any support will need to be tailored to suit their kinship responsibilities as well as any health vulnerabilities.
- Kinship carers have specific and urgent concerns and needs at this time
- The little support available to them is being shaped to fit the new environment but kinship carers are now more isolated and vulnerable than ever
- They are doing their best but they are scared for the health and wellbeing of their families and for what might happen
- They need more support and greater clarity over what is available to them and specific advice relevant to their situation
Recommendations for local authorities and national government
Kinship carers have specific and urgent concerns and needs at this time. They were already a vulnerable and poorly supported group – the coronavirus makes them even more vulnerable, in terms of their health, pressure of caring for children, increased isolation and reduced access to local peer support. They are scared for their families and for what might happen. They need tailored advice, practical resources and tailored support from people they trust.
- Fund voluntary sector to extend existing frontline services to provide tailored advice, practical resources and support to as many kinship carers as practicable.
- Designate a hardship fund so frontline workers can get essential items to kinship families as quickly as possible, for example beds, food, laptops for children.
- Guarantee respite for kinship carers and special guardians who fall ill with symptoms if they want/need it.
- Local authorities should pause all means test financial assessments – and communicate this to carers to reduce anxiety about finances.
- Emergency welfare benefits for all kinship carers and special guardians – we suggest £50 a week – to reduce financial pressures.
- Consider that all children not living with parents should be classed as children in need under s.17 Children Act 1989 and should receive LA support if they require it.
Breakdown of main issues raised by kinship carers:
|Issue||Times raised||What this covered|
|Health||81||What happens to the child if they die, coping while ill|
|Financial concerns||38||Losing job, additional costs|
|Lack of support||32||Less support now, not able to work with schools closed|
|Child’s wellbeing||27||Mental and physical health, routine, keeping children occupied|
|Self-isolation||27||How to manage with children, confusion, conflicting advice|
|Getting basic supplies||26||Effects of panic buying, worry about getting prescriptions|
|Lack of information||16||Confusion what they should do, how to manage, support|
|Contact||9||Maintaining hygiene, effects on arrangements|
Grandparents Plus is the national kinship care charity.
Our free support for kinship carers include a specialist advice service and kinship community of over 7,000 kinship carers. Our kinship carer support programmes are delivered in partnership with local authorities in the North East, Yorkshire, the Midlands and London.
Our work will continue to be informed by kinship carers’ experiences. To discuss kinship carers’ coronavirus concerns and practical solutions, please contact Lucy Peake, Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus at firstname.lastname@example.org