Kinship’s ‘Breaking point: kinship carers in crisis’ report published Monday 2 October 2023, finds the nation’s kinship carers at financial breaking point, with 12% reporting they might be forced to stop caring for their kinship child within the next year
More than 19,000 vulnerable children across England and Wales who are currently being raised by relatives or family friends because they are unable to live with their parents, are at immediate risk of entering the care system, as kinship carers struggle to cope without adequate financial support, according to new research by the charity Kinship. Unlike foster carers, most kinship carers do not receive a financial allowance from their local authority to provide for the child in their care.
National charity Kinship’s report ‘Breaking point: kinship carers in crisis’ published today (Monday 2 October 2023), found that of the 1600 kinship carers surveyed, 12% reported they may have to stop caring for their kinship child (or children) within the next year unless their circumstances change, citing a lack of financial support as well as difficulties getting their child the mental health support they need. This indicates that more than 19,000 vulnerable children in England and Wales, enough to fill 665 classrooms, are currently at risk of losing their long-term home with a loving family member or friend and being placed in foster or residential care with strangers, due to the lack of support available for kinship families.
Over a quarter (26%) of kinship carers surveyed said they are ‘facing severe challenges’ or ‘at crisis point,’ while one in 10 said their household had run out of food within the previous two weeks, and they couldn’t afford to buy more.
There are more than 162,000 children being raised in kinship care in England and Wales, twice the number in foster care. A kinship carer is a relative or family friend raising a child when the child’s parents are not able to. More than half of kinship carers are grandparents, but they can also be aunts, uncles, older siblings, other relatives or family friends.
The report also provides an alarming insight into the number of children in kinship care being separated from siblings in the care system. Almost one in five kinship carers (18%) said they had been unable to take in the sibling of a child already in their care, because of circumstances such as a lack of space (49%) or financial worries (44%). This striking figure suggests at least 20,000 children may have unnecessarily entered the care system in the last decade, despite having a member of their extended family already caring for their siblings, primarily due to a lack of financial or housing support for kinship families.
Kinship’s CEO, Dr Lucy Peake said: “These figures should shock us, because behind every statistic there are tens of thousands of grandparents and other relatives who are struggling to buy food and clothing for the child in their care and considering the unthinkable: putting a member of their family, who they love deeply, into the care system, just to ensure that child is fed and properly provided for.
“We know, as a society, that what children need is love, so it is deeply wrong to risk children in kinship care being separated from a stable home with people who love them, simply because the system is not set up to provide support for kinship carers the way it is for foster carers.
“Pushing this group of children into the care system is wholly avoidable. In fact, according to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, investing in non-means-tested financial support for kinship carers, on a par with fostering allowances, will start saving the public purse significant amounts of money, within just a few years.
“Kinship is urging the Government to equalise support for kinship and foster families in its National Kinship Care Strategy, and to roll this out as a matter of urgency, before any more children are pushed into the care system as the only way to secure the support they need.”
Kinship carer Gemma, 52, from Worcester, was a full-time pub manager when, seven months ago, social services removed her granddaughter from her parents and asked Gemma to take her in. Her name has been changed:
“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 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 live day-to-day and it’s very, very hard. I’m on universal credit. We are behind on rent. I cancelled my pet insurance. We regularly run out of food.
“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 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 placed her with me, in my care – how can it be that she’s still not entitled to any support? 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.”
Kinship carer Nesta, 40, from London works with children for the NHS. Single, she was asked to take in both her cousin’s eight-month-old baby and a neighbour’s two-year-old daughter by social services three years ago, and continues to raise the now four and five-year-old girls alongside her own son, now 8. Her name has been changed:
“With my Special Guardianship Order, my local authority gives me £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.
“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 for 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.
“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. 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.
“Children who’ve come out of care have already been through enough – trauma is still affecting them – why are we not trying to give them an excellent life? Not just surviving.
“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 a holiday or have trips to the farm. 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’.
“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.”
In May 2022, the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommended that the Government introduce a mandatory financial allowance for all kinship carers with a special guardianship order or child arrangement order, where the child would otherwise be in care. Responding to the recommendation in February 2023, the Government’s ‘Stable Homes, Built on Love’ strategy said it would “explore the case” for implementing this and committed to providing an update in a dedicated National Kinship Care Strategy before the end of 2023. The Government has acknowledged that providing an allowance to kinship carers, equivalent to that already given to foster carers, often makes good financial sense for local authorities, kinship carers, and for children and their outcomes.
Research commissioned by Kinship suggests that for every 1000 children raised in kinship care rather than in local authority care, the public purse saves £40 million per year and boosts the lifetime earnings of those children by £20 million.
Leading kinship care charity, Kinship, supports more than 10,000 kinship carers across England and Wales each year, through free training sessions, one-to-one support, peer support groups, an expert advice line and its online information and support hub. Through its network of kinship carer campaigners and #ValueOurLove campaign, Kinship works to raise awareness of the challenges facing kinship families and get kinship carers the recognition and support they need. For more information visit kinship.org.uk
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Interviews: Interviews with Kinship’s CEO Dr Lucy Peake, Kinship’s head of policy and public affairs Sam Turner and kinship carers across England and Wales, available on request
Recommendations from the report:
Based on the new report “Breaking point: kinship carers in crisis” (published 2 October 2023), leading kinship care charity, Kinship, is making the following recommendations:
- Financial support
The UK and Welsh Governments should equalise financial allowances between foster carers and kinship carers, ensuring kinship families receive a non-means tested allowance equivalent to the national minimum fostering allowance.
All local authorities should have an up to date, accessible and visible policy on the provision of financial support for kinship carers, and move towards emulating the leading practice of local authorities who already deliver a non-means tested allowance to kinship carers as soon as possible.
The UK Government should also introduce a statutory right to kinship care leave and pay, on a par with that given to adoptive parents.
- Support for kinship families
All kinship carers should receive free and independent advice and information, including legal advice. Local authorities should provide clear and accessible information to all types of kinship carers, and signpost to resources such as Kinship Compass.
Local authorities should ensure the provision of suitable local training and support services for kinship carers.
All kinship families should have access to appropriate emotional and therapeutic support, including a bespoke version of the Adoption Support Fund.
- Improving the system
Local authorities should establish specialist kinship teams to improve practice in kinship care, supported by research and other activity from Ofsted and Care Inspectorate Wales.
UK and Welsh Governments should prioritise comprehensive and holistic approaches which recognise the unique nature of kinship care, backed by updated statutory guidance, including within the forthcoming kinship care strategy for England.
Significant additional investment must be made in children’s social care at the next fiscal opportunities to ensure kinship care reforms are effective.
Note on data analysis
The exact number of children in kinship care is unknown, but estimates using Census data suggest it could be somewhere between 120,000 and 162,000 children in England and Wales. Our estimates of the numbers of children who risk entering local authority care in the next year and who may have entered local authority care instead of living with their sibling(s) in kinship care are based on overall cohort figures from the University of Bristol analysis of the 2011 Census. For more information on our approach to kinship care and data, please see our recent statement on the release of information on kinship care households by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Leading kinship care charity, Kinship, supports more than 10,000 kinship carers across England and Wales each year, through free training sessions, one-to-one support, peer support groups, an expert advice line and their online information and support hub.
Through its network of kinship carer campaigners, Kinship raises awareness of the challenges facing kinship families and fights to get kinship carers the recognition and support they deserve through its #ValueOurLove campaign.
For more information or support, visit kinship.org.uk
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