Flora, 72, lives in Sunderland.
“I currently care for two granddaughters under special guardianship, but at various points over the past 12 years, I have had four grandchildren in my care.
At first, it was a baby, a 10 year-old and an 11-year-old. Social services dumped them on me with no money whatsoever to help care for them. I think they play on your emotions because they know they’re your grandchildren and you’d do anything for them, so they tell you to get an SGO so they don’t have to support the kids anymore. I’m on my own, so I had to quit my job to look after them.
We got nothing from the council. Between my pension, family allowance and tax credit, we had £70 each a week to live on. It all went on the bills and kids. I was basically just told over and over again ‘you’ll just have to manage’. My savings went on school uniforms, their haircuts…because you want them decent for school.
“I’ve had nightmares about it – I’m crying just thinking about it – I had a nightmare they came and took the kids away. It’s unimaginable – I wouldn’t have been able to bear it.”
Then their mum had a fourth baby and social services gave me one day to decide whether to let her be adopted or to take her in that day. I had to rush out and buy a cot that afternoon. So then I had one bedroom with a double bed, a single bed and a cot in it, and another bedroom with me and one child in it. A social worker said to me “well don’t bring them back in a year’s time, because we won’t want them” .
One of my granddaughters has had a very serious kidney problem since birth, so I have to take her to the hospital all the time. That’s a big petrol cost, and it meant that when my car broke, there was no choice but to get it fixed, because I have to be able to get her to the hospital.
I’ve had to take equity out on my house. I had a broken car, and repairs needed to be done to the house. The boiler went. What could I do? I had to feed them. My roof got blown off in a storm and my friends had to gather together and pay for my roof.
These children have suffered. We’ve never been on a holiday. Summer holiday time: the other children are going to Spain, to Cornwall, and where we going? Nowhere. I can’t take them to the cinema. At the weekend we’ll go for a walk. “Nana, I don’t want to go for a walk again.” They feel like they’re second best.
Susie loves gymnastics and dancing – that’s her dream, so how can I refuse her that? So I’ve found her a club, but the classes are £30 a month, then there’s ballet shoes, tap shoes… So I’ve used the equity release money. Some of the things her teacher has asked her to get, I’ve had to say no to. She’s such a good girl and that’s what she lives for. She doesn’t understand why she can’t have things – that I’m a pensioner and I’m on my own with them.
I’ve scrimped and saved, I’ve emptied savings, I’ve got myself into debt for them. You name it, I’ve done it. Because I won’t allow them not to be well fed and well looked after. I won’t lose them. But there’s no help from anywhere.
Honestly, it would have broken my heart if they’d gone into the care system. I’ve had nightmares about it – I’m crying just thinking about it – I had a nightmare they came and took the kids away. It’s unimaginable – I wouldn’t have been able to bear it.”
Vera, 66, lives in South Yorkshire with her husband. Together, they have been raising their granddaughter, now 11, for the past five years after her parents weren’t able to look after her.
“My state pension age has just kicked in, and so my local authority has said I no longer qualify for a financial allowance to support our granddaughter. She’s just started secondary school and they’ve just pulled the plug on all financial help.
When we took her in, I had to quit my job because it wasn’t the sort of job you could do part-time. My husband had already taken early retirement due to health issues, and we don’t fit the criteria for universal credit or pension support, so things were very tight already, and the amount they were giving us wasn’t enough to care for her anyway – we were using whatever we had.
The money only stopped at the end of August, so we haven’t felt the full impact of it yet but I am very worried about how we’re going to pay for everything she needs. I don’t want her to go without activities or opportunities – we love her and she has already been through so much.
“I don’t know what we’ll do if they don’t listen to us and restart the financial support.”
The school sent home a letter about a year trip to Wimbledon – she won’t be able to go to that. Other children are learning to play an instrument, but that’s £27 every half term. We can’t even get free school dinners for her, so I’ve had to tell her to make sure she chooses the meal deal every day because in the first week she was choosing what she felt like eating and it was about £5 a day, and then she gets home and she needs an evening meal. She’s quite good, she understands. She’s getting older and they’ll be sanitary protection to add to the shopping list soon – that’s very expensive.
We feel cheated to be honest. We’ve been working since we were 15. We worked hard all our lives and we did the best thing for our granddaughter and took her in, even though it meant we had to put our retirement plans on hold and adapt to a new life, but now we’re penalised even more for having a state pension because two pensions mean we’re classified as a joint income family now. If she was in the care system, it would cost the local authority an awful lot more money.
We just want to give her the best start to life. She’s got childhood trauma, so she’s seen a lot of things she shouldn’t have seen. She was having therapy but again, they stopped it 16 months ago and I have been fighting to get them to restart it as she so clearly needs mental health and educational help.
I don’t know what we’ll do if they don’t listen to us and restart the financial support. It shouldn’t be different amounts depending on where you live and how your council deal with you. I think all kinship carers should have a non-means tested financial allowance so local authorities can’t deny you what the child needs because of pensions and savings that were supposed to see you through your old age.”
Philippa, 58, lives in London.
“Three years ago my husband and I took in his two baby grandchildren when the youngest was just four months old, after a child protection order meant they had to leave their parent’s home.
It was during lockdown, and social services just dumped the children and ran. Just the children and a few clothes and toys. No support, no advice. They didn’t even leave us a number to call if we had problems. We had to go out and buy a double pram and everything else they needed.
I was a medical secretary and we had a small savings pot, which we couldn’t access because of the way it was set up, but that tiny pot of savings disqualified us from claiming any sort of benefits. So all we could do was both change our hours to work part-time, and whichever of us isn’t working is looking after the two young children. We’re like ships that pass in the night – our marriage is non-existent now.
“On a regular basis we say, ‘how much longer can we keep this up?’”
We’re absolutely broke. We’ve had times when we’ve had to borrow from my husband’s mum just to buy the week’s shopping. The rented house we’re living in is in a terrible state of disrepair, but we can’t afford to fix it. We’re very cramped. It’s a two-bedroom house, but the kids can’t share a room or they don’t sleep, so my husband sleeps on the sofa and one of the kids is in with me.
A charity donated some toys for the kids and we have to rely on handouts for the kids’ clothes and shoes. We wanted to take them to the zoo during the holidays but we looked at the prices and we just can’t do it, so we went to the seaside instead, but we were terrified we didn’t really have the money for the petrol.
On a regular basis we say, ‘how much longer can we keep this up?’. I know we’d never really give them up because we love them so much and they love us. But of course we have talked about it, because we are constantly at breaking point. It’s very frustrating. You think – is it ever going to improve? You feel like you’re going round in circles, trying to cope. Exhausted. Totally burnt out. You’re very alone. It feels like no one cares.
Something has got to give, as the children are the ones who suffer ultimately if kinship carers can’t cope.”
Gemma, 52, lives in Worcester.
“I was a full-time pub manager when, seven months ago, social services removed my granddaughter from her parents and asked me to take her in. I had to quit a job I loved in order to drive her back and forth from her school, which is in a different town, and do all the social worker visits, and also because she couldn’t be left alone in the house throughout the summer holidays.
The council said she shouldn’t move school because she’s already lost everything else and it would be terrible for her mental health, but the cost of the petrol, for a 10 mile round trip, twice a day, is killing us.
We’ve had absolutely no support from anywhere. When I asked the local authority what support there was to help provide for her, I was told that I’m not entitled to anything because as soon as I took her in, it became a ‘family arrangement’ so my granddaughter isn’t technically a ‘looked-after child’ that the council have to support. I’ve written letters complaining about our treatment and asking for more help, but they haven’t replied.
We live day-to-day and it’s very, very hard. I’m on universal credit. We are behind on rent. We regularly run out of food. I cancelled my pet insurance.
“I have thought about whether I can go on like this, or whether I should hand her back to social services. It makes me feel awful to even consider it, because she’s my granddaughter, but what if I can’t give her what she needs?”
Both my council and the council that put the child protection order on her refused to give us free school meals or a free bus ride to school because they both said it should be the other one’s responsibility. I have only got her free school meals now by begging my MP to intervene.
The local authority wouldn’t even give me £50 for school uniform. I had to go to the pawn shop and sell all my jewellery. My granddaughter is 11 years old – she sees her friends doing sports and activities or going on holidays, and she’s just stuck in the house. During the summer holidays she got really depressed, and I was heartbroken for her, because I couldn’t take her on a single day trip. All I could do was take her to the park. She’s almost 12… the park isn’t really for her age group. It’s all so hard on her mental health. I wish she had access to after-school activities like a foster child would have, so she had something to look forward to each week.
I’m already really worried about Christmas. She’s going to have nothing really. I have thought about whether I can go on like this, or whether I should hand her back to social services. It makes me feel awful to even consider it, because she’s my granddaughter, but what if I can’t give her what she needs?
The local authority have placed her with me, in my care – how can it be that she’s still not classed as a looked after child? Even £50 a week from them would make such a difference in my household. I hear foster carers get about £200… what we’d give for an extra £200. What a difference that could make to a child like my granddaughter.”
Nesta, 40, lives in London.
“I’ve always worked with children, currently within the NHS, so when both my cousin and my next-door neighbour separately had their children taken away from them by social services, they asked if I would take them in. If I can give a child a good home, then I’m going to do that – whatever the cost to me. So, three years ago, I took in an 8-month-old baby cousin and a 2 year-old child of a friend – they’re now 4 and 5 years old – and I have SGOs to care for them, alongside my own 8-year-old son.
I receive £163 per week, per child. It’s means-tested so I receive less because I work really hard, full-time to provide for them all. The local authority give you this small amount of money so you can just about survive. It seems to me that they don’t want those children to thrive, or have a good life. They don’t think about what citizens these children are going to grow up into. My daughter’s a paramedic, and people say ‘you did a good job there’ and I think yes, because I put a lot into her, and I’d love to do the same for these children.
If it was just me and my own son, I would be able to do fun activities every weekend and go on the occasional holiday, but I can’t afford to do that with all of them. Every cost triples. When I asked the local authority for holiday money, they said ‘no we don’t do that, you have to use the money you already get’. Which is fine, except how are you supposed to feed them, clothe them, keep a roof over their head and do activities or take them on a holiday on that amount a week?
“You’re just taking them out of poverty to put them back in poverty.”
We’re in a two-bedroom, so we’re sharing rooms. The local authority promised me they’d sort out the housing – but the children shouldn’t be sharing rooms when they’re not siblings or the same gender. I’ve been waiting about three years. Everyone’s in a bunk bed. I share with the girls on the bottom and the boy is on the top. The front room is the only space that they can play. So I don’t want to make that my bedroom or they’ll have no place to play.
You’re just taking them out of poverty to put them back in poverty. This is why people return children to social services – because the support isn’t there and fighting them on everything takes a lot of time and energy. But I will keep fighting because I am all those kids have and this is the only life they’re going to get.
I wish the children could have a space for themselves with a nice little bedroom, a garden where they can play, a bike. I’d love them to have a bike. To go on holiday, or have trips to the farm or a theme park. I’ve taken them to the museum before, because it’s free and they love that. I want them to grow up and look back and say ‘I had a good childhood’. They can’t have sleepovers because there’s no room. I want them to have the kind of life that my daughter had.
It would break my heart to give them back to social services. I would find that very hard. It would break me. I would feel I’ve failed them.”