Major Report on Kinship Care Concludes Carers Need Expert Legal Advice
A major study launched this week by leading children’s grant-giving charity, Buttle UK and the University of Bristol provides the most comprehensive picture to date across the UK of informal kinship care – children cared for informally by relatives and friends because their parents are no longer able to look after them.
The Poor Relations: Children and Informal Kinship Carers Speak Out is the largest authoritative report to look at both the child’s perspective of living in an informal kinship care setting and the views of their carers. It provides insights into how well, both emotionally and academically, these children are doing, how this compares with children in the formal care system and what impact such arrangements have on both children and carers. The findings are revealing and demonstrate clearly the true cost of informal kinship care and the huge challenges that this group face.
Commenting Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall, said “The report gives an authoritative account of the financial hardship, sacrifice, isolation and the cost to health of the relatives bringing up children across the UK with little or no statutory support – often at very little notice. Each child cared for by an informal kinship carer saves the taxpayer between ¹£23,500 and £56,000 a year.”
“One of the key recommendations is that there needs to be better awareness among universal services such as GPs, teachers and solicitors. The report found that “these are the first people to whom informal kinship carers turn. These professionals need to be attuned to their needs. Early independent legal advice is crucial.”
The report says, “Solicitors need to have the most up to date information not only about legal orders but also about the financial allowances they can attract, and be able advise carers how to argue for this help.” The report highlights the findings that carers had not been properly advised by solicitors about the duties of local authorities and the appropriate order for the children they are caring for.”
“The report found that most families are living in severe poverty- as a result of having the children. Fewer than a third (31%) of the families can provide all the eight basic items considered by most of the population to be necessities, like heating, cooked meals and winter clothes. For example, over a third of the carers (37%) cannot afford warm winter clothes and one in five cannot afford toys and sports equipment for the children. The government’s cuts to welfare benefits will make their lives even more difficult. It is vital therefore that carers get advice about their financial entitlements.
“The fact that most receive no financial allowance from children’s services for the children’s upkeep is a lottery. The willingness of these informal kinship carers to step up to take care of the children is allowing local authorities to view them as private arrangements, no matter how severe the maltreatment or other difficulties they are experiencing. The report found that the children’s family backgrounds are similar to those of children in the ‘looked after’ system.”
“I recently spoke at an event organised by Grandparents Plus and was shocked at the way carers had accepted orders which were completely inappropriate for the situation the carers were in.
The report emphasises the need for carers to get specialist legal advice. This is why we launched the Grandparents Legal Centre. Our specialist team of lawyers role is to ensure that carers could get the advice they need.”
He concluded, “Sadly for some carers it will be very difficult to get the private law orders they seek with the new restrictions on legal aid. The report recommends that a legal aid fixed fee should be introduced to allow free advice and representation to obtain private law orders.”
Key Findings of the Report
Drug and alcohol problems feature heavily in the background of the parents in this new research, causing a child’s move into informal kinship care – which is often sudden and crisis-driven. Findings show that just over two-thirds (67%) of these children are abandoned by parents who are affected by alcohol or drug misuse, including nearly a quarter (24%) who are misusing both. Exposure to domestic violence and parental mental illness was also common. These parents’ chaotic lives put their children at risk and led to parental indifference (64%) and to active rejection (26%) of their children. Relatives and friends stepped in to care for them.
However, when looking at the carers, taking these responsibilities come at a huge personal cost. While they describe their pleasure at seeing the children thrive, they find parenting children is tiring and physically demanding. Many (73%) have long-term health problems or disabilities and a third say their lives are restricted by pain.
These informal kinship carers, of whom half (51%) are lone carers, have foregone retirement and given up their jobs and their freedom. The young carers miss out on further education and job training and are the poorest of all. More than half of the carers (60%) had to manage difficult contact with the children’s parents.
Many kinship carers have feelings of hopelessness because of the restrictions on their own lives, their battles to get help and the strain of trying to manage the demands of the children with so few resources.
Other Key Findings:
- While the majority are living with a grandparent, the first part of the study published in 2011 showed that as many as 38 per cent of kinship children in the UK are being brought up by a sister or brother. They are the poorest of all informal kinship carers.
- The carers said that most of the children (88%) had been abused or neglected while they lived with their parents
- More than a third (34%) of the children had experienced the death of one or both parents – considerably more than found in recent studies of children in care.
- The informal kinship carers experience multiple losses: they have to change their life plans, lose their freedom – and, if young, the chance to train for a job. They lose friends, marriages come under pressure and they can become socially isolated.
- The informal kinship carers’ commitment to the children provides them with psychological security and stability. As a result the children are doing well; considerably better than children in care.
- Nonetheless, over a third (34%) of the children have severe behavioural and emotional difficulties as a result of their experiences of abuse and neglect when living with their parents.
- Many of the informal kinship carers (73%) have long-term health problems or disabilities and a third of their lives are restricted by pain. As many as two-thirds (67%) are clinically depressed.
- Even though the children’s backgrounds are similar to those of children in the care system, children’s services frequently refuse them help.
Despite the often difficult circumstances of the carers, the research shows that these informal kinship arrangements provide stability for the children. The children are doing well, have strong attachments to their carers and have good levels of academic attainment, particularly when compared to children in the formal care system. Many children have high educational aspirations with half planning to go to college (47%) and almost two fifths aiming for university.
Nigel Priestley is the Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors and can be contacted by telephone on 01484 538421. Alternatively, for more information on kinship care, please visit the Grandparents Legal Centre.