Written evidence from Kinship (CPM0039)

Introduction

Kinship (previously Grandparents Plus) is the UK’s largest charity supporting kinship carers. We have developed a growing community of over 8,000 kinship carers who we frequently engage with through social media and a regular newsletter. We also send out regular surveys to help understand what life is like for kinship carers and their children. We run an advice service that currently provides advice to over 3,000 kinship carers a year. We provide specialist support services for kinship carers which are commissioned in 74 local authorities, and we also work with kinship carers in many other areas. Grandparents Plus also works closely with professionals and academics working in kinship care. Our Professionals Network has over 900 members; including social workers, therapists, and lawyers, who attend regular network meetings and events. Our Kinship Care Researcher Network has over 40 academics registered, all with an interest in researching kinship care.

Kinship carers are family and friends who look after children whose parents are unable to. By stepping in and taking on the care of these children, they often prevent children going into local authority care. These arrangements can be short term, on an ‘as and when’ basis, or permanent. There are very few statistics kept on kinship carers. The last reliable data on the extent of kinship care in the UK came from an analysis of the last census data and identified that 180,040 children were growing up in kinship care with a relative (Wijedasa 2017). It is estimated that around an additional 20,000 children and young people are growing up in kinship care with a close family friend. This figure is expected to have risen.  There is no centralised statistics on the financial situations of kinship carers.

Kinship carers and their children are usually vulnerable and require additional support. The children have usually experienced abuse and neglect in the care of their parents similar to that experienced by children in foster care (Farmer and Moyers 2008; Selwyn et al., 2013). These experiences mean they commonly have additional emotional, behavioural, educational, and developmental needs and this can make it more challenging to care for them. Kinship carers are commonly more disadvantaged than people in the general parenting population. They are more likely to; have a disability or chronic health condition, be older, be single, either not be in employment or be working part-time, live in poverty, be poorly housed, and be socially isolated than the general parenting population (Aldgate and McIntosh 2005; Farmer and Moyers 2008; Nandy, 2011; Selwyn et al., 2013; Wijedasa, 2017; Hunt 2020). These vulnerabilities are often exacerbated because kinship carers and the children they care for do not consistently receive the support they need (Hunt and Waterhouse 2012; Selwyn et al., 2013; Wellard et al, 2018; Grandparents Plus, 2018 and 2019; Hunt 2020). The current global health pandemic resulting from Covid-19 has made the situation for kinship carers significantly harder (McGrath and Peake 2020), although they continue to not receive the necessary support to help them with this (Grandparents Plus 2020d; Hall et al 2021). However, despite these vulnerabilities, and the challenges faced by kinship carers and the children they care for, kinship care is a positive placement type for children. Children who are raised by their families and friends generally do well, and their outcomes are better than those for children in the care system (Wellard et al 2017).

What is the Impact of Child Poverty and How can it be Measured?

This response aims to give evidence on this question with regards to kinship carers.

 

There is a significant body of research that indicates child poverty has an impact on children in kinship care, however there are no reliable statistics on the financial situations of kinship carers. Poverty is found to disproportionately affect kinship care families. The 2001 census found that most children in kinship care were living in poverty (Nandy et al 2011). A decade later the 2011 census found that 76 per cent of children in kinship care were living in a deprived household, and two in every three children in kinship care were living in the poorest 40% of areas in England. This picture has continued and prior to the Covid-19 pandemic most kinship carers were believed to be living in poverty (Selwyn et al 2013; Wellard et al 2017; Hunt 2018; Hunt 2020). For many kinship carers, taking on the role meant they had to take a reduction in income (Selwyn et al 2013). One survey found 81% of 671 responding kinship carers had to either reduce their working hours or give up work totally to be able to meet the needs of the children they had taken on (Grandparents Plus 2017). This had a significant impact on kinship carers financial security. 40% of kinship carers were reliant on welfare payments as their main source of income and 19% were relying on the carers’ pensions (Grandparents Plus 2017). 50% were using their life savings to help raise the children (Grandparents Plus 2017). These types of financial issues have led to many kinship carers moving from being financially secure into poverty and their caring commitments meant most had no means of improving their financial stations (Selwyn et al 2013).

Poverty has a significant effect on kinship carers and their children. An early study by Broad et al (2001) found that one of the negatives that children identified about growing up in kinship care was that it meant they had to live in poverty and did not have the same opportunities as their peers. Wellard et al (2017) found that when young people reported poor experiences in kinship carer, the carers were usually experiencing multiple stressors, including having to live in poverty.

In a literature review on grandparent kinship carers, Hunt (2018) found that financial worries were the greatest strain they faced. A literature review on all kinship carers completed for the Parliamentary Task Force on Kinship Care found that poverty was consistently found to be a significant stressor for most kinship care families (Hunt 2020). Worryingly, Selwyn et al (2013) found that the stress kinship carers face, does not usually lessen over time. These additional stresses caused by living in poverty can affect placement outcomes and stability. Aldgate and McIntosh (2006) and O’Leary and Butler (2015) found that the stress of being a kinship carer could negatively affect their physical and mental health. When carers and families are under a lot of pressure it is often harder for the children to settle in with their new families (Harwin et al 2019). Hunt (2018) argues that the psychological wellbeing of the carers appears to affect the outcomes for the children in their care. If kinship care placements do end, the children often have nowhere else to go other than into the care system. This has a significant detrimental impact on their childhoods and their life changes, and comes at a significant cost to public finances.

Kinship carers are consistently found to be the least supported placement option for children who cannot live with their parents, even though the children generally have had similar experiences to children in foster care and adoption (Hunt 2020). Foster carers are now legally entitled to a minimum fostering allowance to ensure they are not financially disadvantaged for caring for someone else’s child. This is not the case for kinship carers. A significant issue Grandparents Plus has noticed is that financial support for kinship carers is discretionary and the responsibility of individual local authorities. This has led to a postcode lottery approach with some kinship carers receiving an allowance until their children are 18 years old and others, in similar situations, receiving nothing. This is not a fair way to support people who are trying to do the right thing for vulnerable children. 

One of the main difficulties in reporting on the financial needs of kinship carers is the lack of consistent data. There are no current mechanisms in place for monitoring the prevalence of kinship care, nor the financial circumstances of kinship carers. This means there is no reliable way to monitor the impact of government policies on kinship carers, including on reducing poverty. It is important to note that the majority of kinship carers are women (around 80 per cent in Grandparents Plus surveys, with around one-third being lone carers) and there is evidence that policy therefore has a disproportionate impact on women.  

The situation for kinship carers is deteriorating. The current Covid-19 pandemic has had a detrimental effect on many of them (Grandparents Plus 2020a, b, c & d, Ashley et al 2020, Hall et al 2021). In June 2020, 60% of kinship carers reported they had experienced a deterioration in their financial situations (Grandparents Plus 2020c) and by January 2021, 22% of kinship carers reported being in financial crisis due to the pandemic (Hall et al 2021). Despite this, over half of kinship carers have not received any additional financial support (Ashley 2020, Hall 2021). Again, there are no official statistics on the financial impact of the pandemic on kinship carers. This makes planning and implementing the correct support for them during times of crisis extremely challenging. Anecdotal evidence from our advice line and support services indicates that this crisis has led to some families breaking down and children coming into local authority care.

Recommendations

 

References

Aldgate, J. & McIntosh, M. (2006). Looking after the family: A study of children looked after in kinship care in Scotland. Edinburgh: Social Work Inspection Agency.

Ashley, C., Johnson, J., and Hall J (2020) Kinship Carers Experiences During the Coronavirus Crisis: Report Produced on Behalf of the Parliamentary Task Force on Kinship Care. London: Family Rights Group

Broad, B, Hayes, R and Rushforth, C. (2001) Kith and Kin: Kinship Care for Vulnerable Young People London: National Children’s Bureau Enterprises LTD.

Farmer, E. & Moyers, S. (2008). Kinship care: Fostering effective family and friends' placements. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Grandparents Plus (2017). Kinship care: State of the nation survey 2017. London: Grandparents Plus.

Grandparents Plus (2018). Kinship care: State of the nation survey 2018. London: Grandparents Plus.

Grandparents Plus (2019). Kinship care: State of the nation survey 2019. London: Grandparents Plus.

Grandparents Plus (2020a). The Impact of COVID-19 on kinship families, March 2020. London: Grandparents Plus. Retrieved from https://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/news/the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-kinship-families/

Grandparents Plus (2020b). Kinship care COVID-19 impact report, May 2020. London: Grandparents Plus. Retrieved from https://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/for-professionals/resources/

Grandparents Plus (2020c). Kinship care COVID-19 impact report, July 2020. London: Grandparents Plus. Retrieved from https://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/for-professionals/resources/

Grandparents Plus (2020d) Kinship care: State of the nation survey 2020. London. Grandparents Plus. Retrieved from https://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/annual-surevy-report-2020.pdf

Hall, J., Ashley, C., Johnston, J. and Martin, S. (2021) Kinship Carers During Coronavirus: Report Produced on Behalf of the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care. London: Family Rights Group.

Harwin, J., Alrouh, B., Golding, L., McQuarrie, T., Broadhurst, K., and Cusworth, L., (2019) The Contribution of Supervision Orders and Special Guardianship to Children’s Lives and Family Justice University of Lancaster. Available at: https://www.cfj-lancaster.org.uk/app/nuffield/files-module/local/documents/SO_SGO_Summary%20Report_vs1.2.pdf

Hunt, J. (2018) ‘Grandparents as Substitute Parents in the UK’, Contemporary Social Science 13(2), 175-186

Hunt, J. & Waterhouse, S. (2012). Understanding family and friends' care: The relationship between need, support and legal statues, carers’ experiences. London: Family Rights Group.

O’Leary, M. and Butler, S. (2015) ‘Caring for Grandchildren in Kinship Care:  What Difficulties Face Irish Grandparents with Drug Dependent Children?’ Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 15(4), 352-372

McGrath, P. and Peake, L. (2020) ‘The impact of COVID-19 on kinship care: Evidence from the kinship care charity Grandparents Plus's Scottish Journal of Residential Social Care, Special feature: Reflections on Covid-19 

Nandy, S. Selwyn, J. Farmer, E. & Vaisey, P. (2011). Spotlight on kinship care: Using census microdata to examine the extent and nature of kinship care in the UK at the turn of the twentieth century. Bristol: The Hadley Centre and University of Bristol.

Selwyn, J., Farmer, E., Meakings, S. & Vaisey, P. (2013). The poor relations? Children and informal kinship carers speak out: A summary research report. Bristol: University of Bristol.

Wellard, S., Meakings, S., Farmer, E. & Hunt, J. (2017). Growing up in kinship care: Experiences as adolescents and outcomes in young adulthood. London: Grandparents Plus.

Wijedasa, D. (2017). Children growing up in the care of relatives in the UK. Bristol: Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies.

 

March 21