The Cost of Loving is a report based on the findings of our 2022 annual survey, which explored what life is like for 1,564 kinship carers raising 2,378 children across England and Wales. This year’s report is yet another illustration of the significant daily challenges facing kinship families and how existing policies and support services are completely insufficient to meet their needs. However, it too shows the difference which kinship care makes to the lives of children across the country and the joy and celebration of family life.
Kinship children’s needs and experiences
Children growing up in kinship care often have high levels of need and experiences similar to other children’s social care groups. They had similar levels of prior adversities to children in need and in local authority care, and the vast majority of children growing up in kinship care had previous involvement with children’s services.
of kinship carers said their children had experienced abuse or neglect before coming to live with them.
believed their child would have gone into local authority care had they not stepped up to look after them.
“Supporting her through this difficult journey, witnessing tears into smiles, enabling her to embracing opportunities and contentment to go forward into her adult life, is amazing.”
Grandparent with a residence order living in the South West of England.
Health and education
Kinship carers and their children are struggling to access the health, educational and behavioural support they need. Children in kinship care were overrepresented in non-mainstream school and college settings, and half of those who attended any kind of educational setting had additional needs. The majority of children had long-term health needs and displayed challenging behaviours, but far fewer had a formal diagnosis or received appropriate support.
Very few children with additional needs do not require enhanced support in education. There is significant unmet demand for additional mental health support for children growing up in kinship care. Even where health, educational or behavioural support is being provided, kinship families are struggling to access this easily.
Many kinship carers also face ongoing difficulties with their health and are not getting the support they need. Only a very small proportion of carers (15%) had ever received therapeutic support to help them with their caring role.
3 in 5
carers said their children had long-term physical or mental health needs.
of carers said their child had behaviours that were difficult to manage.
of carers themselves had a long-term health condition or disability.
“Having to fight every professional for support and being told everything is trauma, but nothing is actually done to support that, which you leaves you feeling like you’ve made it up or that you need a label to get the correct support in place.”
Aunt and special guardian living in the North West of England.
Cost of living
Kinship families are experiencing financial insecurity and signs of financial stress are increasing. Only 2 in 5 kinship carers were in some form of employment, despite nearly 4 in 5 being of working age. Financial support is patchy and based on legal order rather than need; only 4% of informal carers in our survey received an allowance. Nearly 6 in 10 say their financial state is preventing them meeting their children’s needs.
Carers regularly give up work and make significant life adjustments to care for children, including converting space in their homes to act as additional bedrooms and drawing down pension funds, and many are plunged into financial stress and poverty as a result. The rising cost of living is forcing many into unsustainable financial habits such as short-term loans or using credit cards, and families are exhausting existing cost-saving measures in the face of significant energy bill hikes.
of carers had given up work at some point to care for their children.
7 in 10
had been forced to spend their savings or pension pots.
6 in 10
had borrowed money, taken out a short-term loan or used credit cards for everyday purchases.
4 in 10
reported skipping meals, using food banks or buying less food.
6 in 10
will avoid putting the heating on this winter.
4 in 10
will use ovens less or have fewer baths and showers to save on energy costs.
“Not having enough finances is a constant worry.”
Grandparent and special guardian living in the East of England.
Local authority support
The provision of local authority support and information for kinship carers is inadequate, and this risks significant costs for children, families, and the state. More carers than last year say they’re not getting the support they need. Less than a third of carers received information about being a kinship carer before or shortly after the child moved in, and only 28% had been signposted to other places they could access support.
This lack of support has significant consequences for children, families, and the state. It is preventing children from growing up with their brothers and sisters, and risks the stability of many kinship arrangements in the future which could push more children into an already overstretched care system. Higher levels of financial insecurity were strongly associated with worries about the permanence of kinship family stability.
of carers had been unable to take on the care of a sibling due to a lack of support.
of those not getting the support they needed felt they may have to stop caring for their children as a result.
“All the info I have had to find out myself on internet and through support groups… this should be offered straight away… no one should be left in the dark like we were.”
Grandparent and kinship foster carer.
For more detail on each of our recommendations, please see the full report.
- All kinship carers should receive the financial support they need, when they need it.
- Kinship carers should have a right to kinship care leave on a par with adoption leave.
- Children in kinship care should receive targeted support in education and health.
- Local authorities should provide significantly improved support and services for kinship carers.
- All kinship carers should receive free and independent advice and information.
- Further research should seek to understand the needs and experiences of specific groups of kinship families whose voices are underrepresented.
- The UK government should respond boldly and positively to the recommendations made by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care in England.