This study has given an insight into the financial support and allowances provided by local authorities to 1,948 kinship carers who are raising 2,808 children across England and Wales.
Worryingly, the overwhelming majority of kinship carers – 76% – say they do not receive sufficient financial support to meet their children’s needs. 82% have worried about money in the past year.
Financial worries are known to put additional strain on kinship care families who are often already struggling with the pressures involved with being a kinship carer. However, unlike other difficulties kinship carers face, financial pressures are totally unnecessary and avoidable if kinship carers receive fair financial support. For example, in a study of kinship foster carers, the majority suggests the fostering allowance they receive is sufficient for them to meet the needs of the children they are caring for. If there was equality of financial support for all children in kinship care, rates of poverty and financial distress in kinship care households would be reduced, and kinship carers would be more able to focus on the needs of the children. Kinship carers shouldn’t have to worry about whether they can afford to pay their bills or put food on the table because they have stepped in to do the right thing for a vulnerable child.
“I’ve had to fight the local authority every step of the way. I was told I wasn’t entitled to anything because the children I took in weren’t previously looked after, but they have the same needs. They have seen domestic violence and substance misuse, the little one sometimes smashes up the house. It’s not their fault and it’s not fair on them.” Jane, kinship carer
This study has also shown that even those kinship carers who do receive an allowance still struggle financially. With few rights to financial support, and facing regular reviews, kinship carers are vulnerable to cuts in their allowances even when there has been no reduction in the costs of raising the child. Fostering allowances never get cut, do not get means tested, are not reviewed, and increase in line with the children’s age. This allows foster carers to concentrate on meeting the needs of the children. It is only right that children in kinship care receive the equivalent financial security.
On average the allowance per kinship child is £40 less than the lowest allowance per foster child. The allowance for a kinship child in an informal arrangement is £110 less. The national minimum fostering allowance was introduced to cover the costs of raising someone else’s child. It is grossly unfair to perpetuate a system that disadvantages most children in kinship care. The costs of raising someone else’s child in kinship care and in foster care are most likely the same. It is even more concerning when one considers that kinship carers are more likely to live in poverty and be socially disadvantaged than other parenting groups. In simple terms kinship carers step in to look after children who would most likely otherwise be in foster care and in doing so they plunge themselves into poverty.
The survey highlights this unfairness is compounded by the hierarchy of support based on the legal status of child, where 75% of children subject to SGOs receive an allowance compared to 32% subject to child arrangements orders or residence orders and just 13% who are being cared for informally. Children in kinship care regardless of their legal status have similar levels of need and they will cost a similar amount to care for. The system should be child-centred. The allowance for a child should not be so markedly lower because of the child’s legal status or because of their route into kinship care.
The strong and robust findings of this study highlight the discrimination that kinship carers face regarding financial support.
All kinship carers should receive a fair allowance to cover the costs of raising their children that is equal to the national minimum fostering allowance.