Government urged to step up and support kinship carers during the crisis to avoid placement breakdown

New research, commissioned by a cross-party Taskforce of MPs and conducted by the charity Family Rights Group, reveals that the Coronavirus pandemic is increasing the pressure on already vulnerable kinship care families.

There are around 200,000 children in the UK who are not living with their parents but are being raised by relatives, such as grandparents, or friends, known as kinship carers. Many of these carers are older and, along with the children they are raising, are more likely to be suffering from chronic health conditions or special needs than the wider population. The children have often suffered tragedy or trauma.

Many kinship carers have to give up work to care for the kinship children, so they are more likely to be poorer and already in, or at greater risk of, isolation than the wider population.

A new survey, published today, of more than 650 kinship carers across the UK raising over 1000 kinship children, has revealed many are struggling to deal with the additional hardship caused by the crisis and need extra support.

Key findings:

  • Half of kinship carers surveyed are self-isolating because they, the child or someone in their household has an underlying health condition.
  • 28% of kinship carers surveyed have a limiting long-term illness and 54% of the kinship children have additional educational needs or disabilities.
  • A quarter of kinship carers reported they faced financial hardship that had worsened as a result of the current crisis, and a further 18% remained in a similar level of hardship than pre-crisis.
  • Kinship carers’ biggest concerns are the impact of the lockdown on the child’s mental health, development and behaviour. Their other main worries are what would happen to the child if they became ill with the virus, and concerns about managing financially.
  • Half of the kinship carers had received no support during this crisis and many expressed a wish to either receive a phone call from their local authority to check up on how they are or to receive clear information about what help is available.
  • 37% of kinship carers surveyed had been offered a school or childcare place. Most had not taken up the offer, with many being required to shield and citing worries that by sending their child to school, they would risk bringing the virus home. However, 18% of kinship carers said they had not been offered a place but would appreciate one.
  • A quarter of kinship carers recommended steps be taken to make it easier with shopping for food and medicines.

The Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care – a cross party group of MPs and Peers working to improve support for kinship carers – has now written to the Prime Minister to highlight the findings and ask Government to step up to support these families.

They are calling for some immediate steps to relieve the pressure on families and help ensure that placements do not break down, meaning more children would end up in the care system.

Their asks include:

  • A new local Kinship Care Crisis Fund for local authorities to respond to the needs of all kinship families in their locality.
  • For supermarkets to prioritise deliveries for kinship carers and anyone parenting disabled children.
  • Financial measures, including the lifting of the bedroom tax and benefit cap when a kinship care household is having to self isolate.
  • The Government offer of laptops or tablets and broadband to support home learning for children in care or who have a social worker be extended to children in kinship care.
  • Children in kinship care be offered the option of a childcare or school place during the crisis.

Catherine McKinnell MP, Member of Parliament for Newcastle North and Chair of the Taskforce, said: 

“Many kinship care families were already facing difficulties before this crisis, and our research shows that the pandemic has made it worse for the most vulnerable. The Government has put some welcome measures in place to support some families, but many kinship carers are not eligible and we think ministers need to go further.

“These are carers who have stepped up to do the right thing for their child relatives, helping safely keep children in their family and friend networks and out of the care system. They already receive too little recognition for the amazing work they do and the sacrifices they make, and they risk falling through the cracks once again. We urge the Prime Minister to step up and help protect them.”

Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group said: 

“Many of the responses to the kinship care survey were heartbreaking. Family and friends, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, brother and sisters are doing their best by the kinship children, in extremely adverse circumstances. Many of the kinship carers have been plunged into poverty, having to give up work or reduce their hours in order to take on the children. But the crisis has caused even greater financial hardship as shopping and utility bills rise and in many cases, household income has fallen further. Some of the kinship carers describe being left abandoned with their worries, including fears of what should happen to the child if they fell ill.

“The recommendations set out in the report are straightforward actions that the Government could take now to help relieve some of the significant stress on kinship care household.

“Kinship carers are there for the children. Now the government needs to be there for them.”

A copy of the Taskforce’s report with full analysis of the survey can be downloaded here, alongside a cross party letter signed by over 57 parliamentarians which has been sent to the Prime Minister.