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Kinship carers – the unsung heroes?

The Family Rights Group (FRG) has published a new report – Doing the right thing: A report on the experiences of kinship carers – a wide ranging report that provides some interesting information about the challenges facing kinship carers. Kinship carers look after children within their family who cannot be cared for by their parents. These children would otherwise almost certainly be in the care system. The majority of these carers are grandparents but can include older siblings and wider family members. According to research carried out by Bristol University, about 153,000, or one in every 74 children in England is cared for by a relative.

One area that is focussed upon in the report is the financial hardship that can be experienced by kinship carers, whether they are in work or not. Half of the carers surveyed had to give up work to care for a child. In my experience, this is not unusual as the child will often require the full commitment of the carer to settle in and recover from any trauma experienced. This is in addition to the endless appointments that they will be required to attend. There may be little alternative to relying on state benefits for a period of time. For those carers that rely on state benefits, the benefits cap reduction is likely to have had an impact. In fact, FRG report that 3 out of 4 carers are already experiencing severe financial hardship. The situation is unlikely to be helped by a further reduction in the benefits cap due April 2016. Further, from 2017, child tax credits are to be limited to two children per household, which will have a particular impact on the 22% of kinship carers who are in households with three or more children. This will not only affect those fully reliant on state benefits but also those who manage to maintain low income employment. The concern raised by FRG is that this may deter family members from coming forward as potential kinship carers.

Research has consistently shown that outcomes for children brought up by family members are significantly better than for those brought up in the care system. They benefit from the commitment shown to them by the family member, and the reduced prospects of the placement breaking down. There is a stability and sense of belonging that flows from being brought up within the family. In appropriate circumstances, it also means that a child can have an ongoing relationship with their parents. In addition, kinship carers save the state a lot of money. The National Audit Office estimates that the cost of keeping a child in foster carer is between £29,000 and £33,000 per year whilst a residential placement can cost £131,000-£135,000 per year.

Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson has described kinship carers as ‘unsung heroes’. Let’s hope that he and his colleagues in government heed the call of kinship carers to provide them with the help and support they need to continue with their heroic work.