Kinship carers: unsung heroes of child care…

Grandparent carer...

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/lammeyer

In our last post on foster care, we lifted the lid on those who open their lives to other people’s children.

We also explored the nature of the sacrifice required from carers.

Many of the comments after the piece were from kinship carers – essentially those who foster children from their own extended family.

This got me thinking about the differences between foster care and kinship care. So I did some digging around. The results of this enquiry had me shocked…

Why kinship carers are heroes!…

Kinship carers are those who foster children, just like foster carers. The difference is that the children are part of their extended family. Usually.

They may be aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins of the child’s parent/s or even elder siblings – being related in some way is the only “qualification” for kinship caring. But there’s more to it than that…

Kinship costs…

When social services are alerted to the plight of children needing to be housed away from their parents, the first place they look is to extended family. This is sensible.

Though they may not know each other very well beforehand, at least the carer/s and child/ren may know of each other. Foster carers are strangers. Kinship carers are usually family. But there’s more…

Because the children can’t just move in. Many, though not all, potential kinship carers have to undergo a full and rigorous assessment and approval process first. In fact, they have to “qualify” in the same way that potential foster carers do.

There the similarity ends.

“Unsung heroes” because…

  • All change – kinship carers have a sense of obligation towards related children. This is completely understandable. They want to help. But this can weigh heavily. Their lives change. Not in a planned and deliberate way. But because tragedy dictates that there are related children who need their help.
  • No fire exit – foster carers work extremely hard to avoid the need for children to leave their care. But it happens. When things get tough and children cause persistent and challenging difficulties, foster carers can request that children move on. Kinship carers can do this too, in theory. But who could “reject” related children in this way? So they soldier on…
  • No back up – Foster carers can access respite care to give them a break. Kinship carers usually can’t. I’ve even heard of kinship carers say they were told that if they can’t cope, the children will be given to someone who can…
  • Self-help only – kinship carers get little or no support from social services once the children are placed. Having passed the approval process they are left to get on with it. Left to care for children who’ve suffered abuse, loss, trauma, etc. without any professional support to call on.
  • Out of pocket – foster carers get paid. Even when there are no children placed with them, they receive a retainer. This is right. After all caring for children is their job. Kinship carers rarely get any financial support. But their costs rise considerably. I have heard from carers whose caring obligations have meant having to reduce their working hours, or give up work altogether.
  • Out of pension – Some kinship carers have had to give up work later in their careers, sacrificing the most crucial period of their pension savings. Along with the added costs of child care, this leads some carers into significant financial need and can mean some of the most vulnerable children are left in uncertainty.

Final thought…

Of course, there’s more to it than this. I can’t do justice to the costs and delights of kinship care in a short blog post.

But it’s important to emphasise the huge hidden costs of stepping in to care for related children or the children of close friends.

Should those who do exactly the same job as foster carers be so disadvantaged when they save the state many millions of pounds each year? I don’t think so.

Look out for a future post on the joys of kinship care…

What do you think?

  • Should relatedness impose obligation?
  • Is there a place for the state to pay kinship carers in some way? Why? Why not?

Please let me know your thoughts…   Join in the conversation – Leave a comment below or click here.

Info on kinship care…

  • Find a U.K. based kinship carers’ Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/kinshipteddy
  • There are a couple of kinship carers’ websites, here:
    • The Family Rights Group helpline 0808 801 0366

Please support kinship carers…

Related posts…

Pass it on…

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  © Jonny Matthew 2014

(Written with grateful thanks to and with invaluable assistance from Deborah Burns and Karen Steele who responded to my last post on foster care.)

JOIN THE CONVERSATION AND ADD YOUR COMMENTS!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • judifff

    Thank you for highlighting Kinship care. My partner and I were approached in July 2012 to put our names forward to care for a little boy. A little boy of whom we had never met, but was a distant relative. We put our names forward and the ball was rolling. The ball never stopped rolling, in December 2012 we were granted an SGO (Special guardianship order) in February 2013 we brought him home. Our home was 400+ miles from his home, his life with his foster carers, and everything he had known for the 9 months before.
    As we are from Scotland, and Little one was under Suffolk care, the lack of support and information we received was disgusting.
    We were given this child, with next to no back ground information, no local support and left to “get on with it!”
    Numerous emails, calls back and forth to the social services in Suffolk resulted in me putting in a formal complaint. Still no help/support was offered.
    15 months after bringing the little one home, we still have our daily struggles. We still have no help or support, we are basically on our own.
    On our own with a child whom has been neglected, abused, and been placed with 5 different family in the 1st 18 months of his life.
    If we did not come forward to be his carers, he was to be placed for closed adoption. These adopters would of been given training, support and the post adoption team would be on hand to answer questions or direct them to the support they would need in the here and now, or in the years to come.
    As kinship carers, what have we got? Nothing…
    As kinship carers, what has the little one got? Everything that this Mummy & Daddy can offer him….
    We do not need social services for that. We can do this without them. We will do this without them.

    • jonnymatthew

      Wow, that’s quite a story, Judith! Sadly it’s not that unusual – it’s totally unacceptable. THANKS for sharing it. Cheers, Jonny.

      • judifff

        Your welcome 🙂 keep up the good work your doing in highlighting kinship care.
        I found you through “Kinship “Foster” Carers Group” on Facebook. The group has been my saviour and gave me the strength to go on!

        • jonnymatthew

          I’m glad you found the FB group, Judith – it’s a great resource. You can keep in touch with my stuff by subscribing to the website at the top right of this page – enter your name and email and click “subscribe.” I look forward to your future comments! Keep going with your little one – it’ll be worth it in the long run! Cheers, J.

  • David Roth

    Thank you for providing this recognition to a group of carers whose contribution goes largely unrecognised and unacknowledged. I’d just like to point any kinship carers in England and Wales who’d like some advice about their circumstances towards Family Rights Group (disclosure: I’m the charity’s family and friends care policy adviser). We have a freephone advice line (0808 801 0366) staffed mainly by family lawyers and experienced social workers which is open 9.30am-3pm Mon-Fri. We have detailed and legally referenced advice sheets that you can download. You can also email for advice to advice@frg.org.uk, or join our family and friends carers’ discussion forum for some peer support.

    Find out more at our website: http://www.frg.org.uk

    • jonnymatthew

      Thanks for this, David – really helpful and valuable information. I’ve added your link and helpline number to the blog post, so hopefully folks will see it and be able to benefit. Thanks again for taking the time to comment. Cheers, J.

  • wendy carroll

    im bringing up my granddaughter had her since 08 worked the 1st 4yrs struggled in the end was told to give up work wen she was 4 now shes 5 I have to find a job had to go on jsa cant find a job in school hrs with all the holiday’s of so keep getting my jsa sanctioned from 27th feb till april cant win they just say im not looking 4 work here I am worked all my life brought up my own 5 children bern in my job 4 20yrs becos my gd is on the at risk register they have to b checked cant just leave her with anyone its a joke

    • jonnymatthew

      Hi Wendy – it’s an appalling situation. I wonder if it would help to ring the Family Rights Group helpline (see David’s comment below) to see if there’s anything else that can be done? Certainly something needs to change and social services really should be supporting you in some way. I’m sure your grand-daughter will be forever grateful for your care – in the meantime someone needs to be looking after you! Hang in there. Cheers, J.

  • Cheryl Elizabeth Steed

    Great piece, thank you for supporting the forgotten, or totally ignored if its social services, kinship carers, were the easy target for saving money as far as ss are concerned, we will not give up fighting for the children in our care.

    • jonnymatthew

      Thanks Cheryl – keep up the great work! J.

  • Amanda Swan Bridgland

    Wow, this is a very pionient area and one of concern. The kinship cater is rarely mentioned; it’s either foster carers or adoption or care homes. This has really highlighted an area for me that I have not fully considered. I guess the ‘obligation’ falls to the family but I wonder what about disabled children/relatives? But disabled children/relatives get a carers allowance, albeit not much but it is a recognised position. Kinship carers need to be recognised and supported. This could make all the difference to the family’s well being and future happiness.

    • Deb Burns

      disabled, abused, traumatised, neglected.. it doesn’t matter.. The common theme among kinship carers is that once the kids are ‘dropped on our doorsteps’ Social Services just walk away.. no support package for the majority of kinship carers.. You just wake up one day and find your life changed forever. We didn’t choose this as a career and have received no training (or warning!) Social Services must look to family first before placing the child with foster parents. They aren’t supposed to just abandon the carers without financial or emotional support.. Both my grandsons came with the clothes they wore. The baby didn’t even have a spare nappy!! If I had been a foster carer I would have been given a payment to buy everything the children need.. I was given nothing. Not a penny.. i had to furnish a nursery for the baby and a room for the 5yr old. I had to buy clothes, shoes. pj’s, toys.. when i asked for financial help because I couldn’t cope with the burden they’d just placed on me I was told if I couldn’t cope they would remove the children and place them up for adoption!!.. Thank you for recognizing our plight xx

      • jonnymatthew

        Well said, Deb – hats off to you all! Something really needs to be done to move all this forward towards securing a more just situation for kinship carers…

  • Patsy Riley

    Thank you Jonny, for taken up this cause of Kinship carers very well written and I will be following closely any comments or developments

    • jonnymatthew

      Thanks Patsy, though Debs and Karen can take some credit too! 🙂 J.

      • Deb Burns

        If it wasn’t for Patsy finding your article and posting it for us to see we wouldn’t have known about you.. We’re a tag team 😉
        So are you going to come and visit us at kinfest?? There are 45 kinship families from all over UK. It’s in Lincs

        • Karen Steele

          Nice one Jonny. Yeah, come to Kinfest even if to join for a day! X

  • Rosanna Watts

    Thanks jonny for all the support and highlighting king carers. I am a grandparent of two little girls 4yrs old and disabled also 9yrs old with AD and I have never had any help or support from ss. As I had my disabled gd placed with me by ss from birth and my oldest gd via family agreement 19mths ago now. And I have struggled financially also emotionally also having yo live in a gff begging ss to help house me also support my oldest gd. For ad due to her trumas from living with bf and being subjected to a cocktail of abuse neglect and traumatized from a young age. That is also effecting youngest disabled gd due to lo mimicking her older sister. I love both my gd and want to safeguard them both. But I feel ss are letting us down by not supporting me. Also I am in process of being assessed for sgo. So I am hoping that when assessments are all finalised ss do help us. So thank you for all you are doing for kingship cares xx

    • jonnymatthew

      You’re more than welcome, Rosanna – all i did was write about it; I truly wish I could do more!

  • Ang Davis

    Jonny A really import area for consideration, the amount of young people I see who have relied on the grand parents only to have the situation break down due to lack of support. This leaves the child with a second rejection to deal with and in some cases complete demonisation by the family, being seen as the source of all the problems. This is hugely damaging, leaveing layers of truama and unresolved issues to take into adulthood and their own parenting. Grand parents can be an absolute God send and should be akcnowledged and supported for the wonderful work they do. x

    • jonnymatthew

      Brilliant comment, Ang – you capture it superbly! It really frustrates me that what should be a great option for the kids can be jeopardise for the lack of bit of proper support. The key thing, as you say, is that when things do go badly wrong, everything is made worse – the very opposite of what caring for kids is all about. These carers really are heroes and, sadly, remain almost completely unrecognised by children’s services – the situation badly needs to change. THANKS for commenting – it’s good to have a sympathetic professional voice in on the discussion! Cheers Ang, Jonny.

  • Lynn Campbell-Whyte

    Can I also point out that grandmothers aren’t always retired little old ladies. Some of us have been MADE to give up financially rewarding careers by social services, with no offer of financial support or otherwise. In our case we were assessed as to our financial ability to take on grandson – followed by 6 years of hardship as we had just started a new business. Almost 7 years later we are just beginning to come through it only just learning that financial support might have been available, which cannot be awarded retrospectively, and now we wouldn’t even qualify even if our local authority had support in place. I wouldn’t change what we did for the world – but their lack of transparency in matters surrounding the procedures for a looked after child moving to SGO is extremely frustrating and frightening for ‘new’ people involved in the process (ours was 8 months, worst 8 months of our lives).

    • jonnymatthew

      You’re totally right, of course, Lynn; not all kinship carers are elderly. In fact many aren’t. Many aren’t grandparents either – I used that in the title to stimulate people to read it. Which seems to have worked! Your situation is another spin on the old story – family being asked to take on children, they want to because they love the kids, but end up carrying a terrible load financially, emotionally and physically. Thanks for sharing your story, Lynn! Cheers, Jonny.

  • Cindy Hayward

    What can I say I’m a kindship carer 9 year old granddaughter and 7 year old grandson we had to move to a bigger house to accommodate them I had to go parttime yes I get a means tested allowance for them which is no way enought to feed and cloth them a month never mind anything else ,we gave up holidays abroad for holiday in the uk camping as you can not take kids out of school,bigger mortgage ,sleepless nights ,no social life , less money as I went parttime ,older kids resenting the fact we have very little time for them as doing stuff with grandkids,other grandkids missing out as we have always got the other 2 with us,at 53 and 57 is this what we had in mind no. Would I do it again yes they are my blood and not seeing them ever would of killed me 🙂

    • jonnymatthew

      What a shame that everyone in your family has to take a hit in their quality of life due to no fault of their own! Your own children are a highlight in this case – they didn’t choose to be in this position and, despite their understanding, they suffer some loss as a result. It could all have been avoided with the right support… Thanks for sharing your story, Cindy! Cheers, Jonny