Why is this needed?
Special guardians (SGs) often have a very short time to prepare for special guardianship and may have to leave or reduce employment and adjust to the additional cost of caring for children. They consistently identify financial issues as one of the greatest sources of strain on the placement.
“A recent analysis of data from the 2001 national census highlighted the disadvantages faced by informal kinship carers who lacked the formal parental responsibility conferred by a legal order and whose children formed the vast majority of those living in kinship care. Over two-thirds of kinship carers (70 per cent), most of whom had to rely on their own economic resources, were found to be experiencing multiple deprivations (Nandy and Selwyn, 2013).
“The link between kinship care and financial strain is well established in the literature, as the acquisition of additional children often places a significant strain on family resources. Financial assistance has also been found to be the most needed and most appreciated service by kinship carers. This was certainly the case for guardians in this study, as almost all guardians (92 per cent) had found provision of an allowance ‘very helpful’.” (Wade et al 2014 p215)
“Becoming a special guardian meant the grandparents usually had to either give up work or reduce their working hours. This was normally at the request of children’s services as a criterion of passing the special guardianship assessment. The grandparents found this meant they eventually found themselves parenting in poverty. Giving up work also meant they were unable to pay into a pension and some felt this meant they would spend the rest of their lives in poverty because they would be too old to go back to work once their grandchildren were 18.” (McGrath – in preparation)
“The average income for a kinship household is just £17,316 – well below the national average. 43% (of kinship carers) say their income is not sufficient to meet the children’s needs.” (Grandparents Plus 2017b p3)
“85% of carers we surveyed were of working age, and 73% were working prior to becoming a kinship carer – 45% gave up work; 23% reduced their hours. 8% were able to change their hours.” (Grandparents Plus 2017b p5)
“74% of kinship carers did not get the financial support they needed when the child moved in 61% of kinship carers do not get the financial support they need now.” (Grandparents Plus 2019)
“Around three-quarters of the kinship carers who filled in the survey and are raising children outside the care system, are receiving a financial payment or regular allowance. However, one in five are receiving no such assistance.
“A small but notable number of kinship carers had been adversely affected by the benefit cap, bedroom tax or benefit sanctions, which had a very harsh impact on their daily life.
“One in two kinship carers rated the process of obtaining financial support from the local authority or claiming benefits as very difficult.
“Three in four of kinship carers said becoming a kinship carer has caused them financial hardship.” (FRG 2019)
“38. Regulation 6 sets out the circumstances in which financial support may be paid to a special guardian or prospective special guardian. These are:
(c) where the local authority consider that it is appropriate to contribute to any legal costs, including court fees, of a special guardian or prospective special guardian associated with:
(i) the making of a special guardianship order or any application to vary or discharge such an order
(ii) an application for an order under section 8 of the Act (a contact order, a prohibited steps order, a residence order or a specific issue order)
(iii) an order for financial provision to be made to or for the benefit of the child.”
“Regulation 13: Assessment for financial support
“63. It is important to ensure that special guardians are helped to access benefits to which they are entitled. Local authorities should therefore endeavour to ensure that the special guardian or prospective special guardian is aware of, and taking advantage of, all benefits and tax credits available to them.
“65. In determining the amount of any ongoing financial support, the local authority should have regard to the amount of fostering allowance which would have been payable if the child were fostered. The local authority’s core allowance plus any enhancement that would be payable in respect of the particular child, will make up the maximum payment the local authority could consider paying the family. Any means test carried out as appropriate to the circumstances would use this maximum payment as a basis.”
“Regular contact to review plans is crucial to making sure they reflect current needs. Where specific cost limits are used, councils must make sure they are realistic and based on the actual cost of delivering what a support plan requires.” (LG&SCO p10)
“Councils should publish a clear, simple explanation for how they will calculate any allowance. This should set out what factors will be considered. This means potential guardians can be clear, up front, about what support they might have.” (LG&SCO P14)
Examples of approaches currently being taken
North London Adoption and Fostering Consortium
The support booklet provides an overview of the support available to carers. Each borough in the consortium sends a letter to their SGs about the financial support which is available and further details are included in the welcome pack.
Hackney has a Protocol for Special Guardianship Financial Support published on its website. (See PDF)
Leeds CC has produced:
- A template for the assessment of SGs (in development)
- A West Yorkshire policy on Special Guardianship and support (in development)
- A common approach to means testing for SGs (in development)
A leaflet is provided to SGs explaining what financial assistance is available. (See PDF)
Brighton and Hove
- All SG’s are eligible for a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) allowance minus Child Benefit payments.
- All financial support payable is set out in the SGO Support Plan and reviewed annually
- Where necessary SGs are referred to the local authority Welfare Rights Service and to voluntary Debt Support Services
Financial assessments are undertaken and reviewed annually or when circumstances change. Liaison takes place with a finance worker when issues arise
Where an ATV social worker assesses a need for a financial allowance/grant, the assessment and recommendations will be referred back to the local authority responsible for the child for a decision.
PAC UK advise SGs about the possibility of accessing extra funding through Disability Living Allowance which has a mental health component. This allows for attachment and developmental trauma issues to be detailed as the basis for, non means tested, extra funding. The adoptive families and SG families we work with have had a 100% success rate at accessing some increased funding to support them.
The strongest message from the SGs consulted for this document was the need for easily accessible and transparent information on the financial support available and how it is calculated. Very few local authority/regional adoption agency respondents were able to supply an easily accessible, clear description of the financial support available to SGs. This seems contrary to the advice of the Ombudsman above. SGs also requested that:
- They are given clear information on how to challenge a decision to withdraw financial support or how to access the complaint process when a decision has been made to revoke an SG allowance
- Local authorities communicate with each other and co-ordinate their actions when a child moves between authorities
The difference between support for foster carers and SGs was highlighted as ‘a constant thorn in our side’. ‘We are treated differently but do the same job’.