Kinship care: the abuse of grandparents?…

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Stu99

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Stu99

One day, Rose received a phone call from social services.

They asked her a question. Could she look after her grandchildren as their mother was unsafe?

“Yes,” she said, “of course!” Which grandparent wouldn’t?

She became a “kinship carer.” Years later, she’s still a kinship carer…

Great for the kids, but what about Rose?…

Had Rose been a foster carer in the employ of the local authority or a fostering agency she would, quite rightly, have received lots of support. Been she wasn’t. And she didn’t! Here’s a closer look:

Housing…

The problem was that Rose’s house was a little small. Her own children had left home years before. She had moved to a smaller place – she hadn’t needed the extra room…till now. And didn’t have the funds for anything bigger.

Foster care – the children would never have been placed in a home too small for them. If the match with the carers was right, the local Authority might pay for or financially support a more suitable home. I’ve even known local authorities help foster carers to move in order to serve the best interests of the children…

Health…

One of the children had attention problems (ADD) and the other was traumatised and displaying all kinds of concerning behaviours. Rose needed help to know how best to care for her granddaughters. She new nothing about ADD. She needed training.

Foster care – social services would have ensured that the local CAMHS service was alerted and the proper care and support put in place. Carers would receive training to inform them how best to care for the children. They would also have a social worker to talk to – sometimes all you need is a sympathetic listener!

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Costs…

The kids arrived in what they were wearing. No toys, no bedding, no clothes – just the shoes on their feet. Rose bought what they needed. To do so Rose got into debt.

Foster care – a grant would have been given to the foster carer to purchase the essentials for the children. And a regular fee to cover the ongoing costs

Contact…

Once a month, Rose takes the children for a contact visit to see their Mum, her daughter. This is extremely embarrassing and awkward and upsets everyone – the children, their mother and Rose. Rose is accused by her daughter of “kidnapping” her kids and suffers all kinds of verbal abuse and threats. Then she has to return home and help the children recover from the visit. But who’s looking after Rose?…

Foster care – a supervising social worker or support worker would normally supervise contact. If carers were expected to do it, they would receive training and regular supervision. Because of this they can maintain a professional distance from birth family members.

Support…

Rose was overwhelmed by the task she’d been asked to take on. She really had no choice. After all, these were her grandchildren. She didn’t sleep. She was exhausted. She felt very much alone and she felt she was failing. She couldn’t give up, but she struggled to keep going. But she did keep going. What choice did she have?….

Foster care – foster carers have a supervising social worker. They can refer on to other agencies for help. They can advise carers on matters that are new to them. They can arrange respite to give the carers an evening or a weekend off. They can provide training.

Change is needed…

So, a simple question remains: why are we treating kinship (family & friends) carers so differently from foster carers?

Grandparent carer...

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/lammeyer

They do the same job. They have as great a sense of obligation and love for the children – if not significantly more so. But we assume they have everything they need to cope. They don’t. In fact, many are really struggling. But they carry on, often at huge personal cost, for the sake of the children. This isn’t right. Change is needed.

Spend to save…

The State saves millions each year by NOT having to accommodate children because kinship carers step into the breach. But the cost is often too high for the carers. They struggle financially, they struggle emotionally, they live with huge stresses and they get ill. A little spending by the State to support these families, would yield a great return. It’s time for local authorities to fully recognise and support kinship care.

Final thought…

All this could be avoided by applying the same rights to kinship carers as we already do to foster carers. Why should being related mean you are left to struggle? It shouldn’t!

(Rose isn’t real – she’s a composite, based on real people and situations I’ve come across. She is not an extreme example.)

What do you think?

  • Do you agree that kinship carers need more support from the State? If not, why not?

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

Further information on kinship (or family & friends) care…

I have a fostering and kinship care resources page. Click here

  • 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…

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  © Jonny Matthew 2014

JOIN THE CONVERSATION AND ADD YOUR COMMENTS!

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

  • Cerys Wood

    Excellent article Jonny. You’ve raised some very valid, serious points. The established fostering rights absolutely should apply to Kinship fostering. Education, support, counselling, etc should especially be standard procedure for Grandparents who foster.

    • jonnymatthew

      Yep, couldn’t agree more, Cerys! Are you fostering or did you just spot this online? THANKS for commenting! J.

  • Cerys Wood

    No, I’m not fostering. I spotted the title of your article on Facebook and it prompted me to have a read. It is of interest to me as I work with a few Human Sex Trafficking charities and there is a growing concern in one of the conferences I attended on the subject of Grandparents taking on (fostering) young teenage granddaughters…thus leading to inadequate emotional/counselling support, financial support,etc, etc…thus leading to hugely heightened risk of girls going into hard drugs, prostitution, etc.

    • jonnymatthew

      Yep, that’s exactly right. Wow, sounds fascinating – good for you for getting stuck in; well done. It’s not that kinship carers don’t have the ability but, as you say, they like any real support. As a result placements struggle, people get ill and get into financial problems and life takes a downward turn for everyone. This means the kids can end up being more at risk – which, for the sake of a bit of decent support, could be prevented. Very frustrating! Cheers Cer, J.

  • Lynne Paxton Caldecott

    Totally agree with this article I had to give up work to look after my. 2 grandchildren and after it was all
    Made official the social worker signed us off and that was us on our own!

    • jonnymatthew

      Dear me – what a ridiculous approach to children in need! It’s at times like this I feel a little ashamed to be a social worker, Lynne! I completely get that for most kids being with extended family is the best option. But that shouldn’t mean that the Local Authority just wash their hands of it and walk away. Some ongoing support would make a huge difference and, ironically, probably encourage families to do the same when approached. What a shame. Thanks for commenting! J.

  • Lyn Griggs

    Excellent article Jonny I am a kinship carer of my 2 young grandchildren after the very sudden loss of their mother, due to alcholism and mental health. We got no financial support, no bereavement counselling, and were told to get a bigger house for the children and then give up work. Then they walked away. This put us under great strain and we have continued to work and bring up these children for the last 5 years. Now our health is not so good, so I am now trying to get support for these children from the local LA, watch this space.

    • jonnymatthew

      Wow, this is the worst case scenario, Lyn. What a difference a little support would make! I know that you would never want to really do so, but a mention of not coping and the possible need for the kids to go into care might stir the Local Authority to action. But it might not! This is not about game-playing. It’s about the reality of people having to cope with unmanageable burdens – financially, practically and emotionally. My thoughts are with you, Lyn. Hang in there. I’m sure the kids will have benefitted immeasurably from your love and care. Cheers, Jonny.

  • vorni

    Spot on. I have sgo for 3 grandkids, no support except for basic minimum financial. Even the help with contact the LA agreed in court they didn’t follow through on as it was not a regulation just a recommendation. I’ve been on their mailing list for training to deal with attachment disorder for 2 years and not one training e-mail has ever made it to my inbox! Social services need to get their act together and support us more. Personally I save the state upwards of £24000 a year! With the amount of kinship kids in this country, there should be sufficient to fund a training course, or a contact centre and supervisor for two hours once a month for any of us that request it. Guess we all know where the savings local governments need to make are coming from. Once again the most vulnerable in society.

    • jonnymatthew

      Exactly right, Vorni. I think this contact issue is a really important one. The constant crossover with birth family members is unique to kinship care and is extremely bad practice. It adds more tension for all concerned. And most importantly, it can set carers and parents against each other in the minds of the children, adding anxiety and worry to kids who are least well equipped to handle it. I think your suggestion of a contact worker/centre to carry this load is a great idea. Thanks for commenting! Cheers, J.

  • Tootsk

    Hi Jonny – thank you so much for highlighting the issues around kinship caring. We are aunt and uncle to our 2 little ones. Although support from Social Services is good now, it hasn’t been without a battle or two! Many of the points you raised apply to us… having to find a bigger house; the ongoing costs of higher rent while having more mouths to feed; finding the money to buy a cot, a bed, clothes, pushchair, toys etc; when your income is suddenly halved because one of you has to give up work to care for the children because they need you more than anything. But way and above all of that, the most difficult thing, was safeguarding the children from their own parents… dealing with the fallout when their mum told them that she would be taking them to Disneyland soon and one of their dads decided that they couldn’t have his own child to live with him until he was ‘in secondary school and able to look after himself.’ The lack of financial support is crippling, but the lack of emotional support and supporting us to support our children is soul-destroying. I look forward to your next article which I understand will focus on many of the positives about kinship caring and, believe me, there are many. Despite the hardship and the emotional turmoil that many kinship carers find themselves facing, the rewards to us and our children are immense. Thank you again… raising awareness is vital in driving forward change.

    • jonnymatthew

      Thanks for commenting, Tootsk! Sadly tour story is typical of lots that I’ve heard since I woke up to this issue recently. That you have a little support now is a good thing, though clearly inadequate to the task. I think we all understand the need for family to “look after their own.” The problem is that it’s a lot more complicated than that. Breaking down this idealogical resistance is the problem at a policy level. PLEASE let me know of any anecdotes of a delightful kind, particularly in reference to positive changes in the children. I’m keen to broaden our reach on these issues by being balanced. It’s also important for you guys to celebrate the fantastic work that you do! Thanks again. Cheers, Jonny.

  • Melanie Nichols

    I have SGO for 4 grandchildren and you have it absolutely right!!! Enough said

    • jonnymatthew

      Thanks Melanie! J.

  • ann

    You just described my life, I have two disabled grandchildren and I am registered disabled myself, I got all the help known to man from social services in the beginning until I got sgo then never seen them since never received a penny from social services told I was entitled but they didn’t have enough funds so wouldn’t get it, I have had them the eldest 10 yrs the youngest nine years he came to me at birth there is only 10 months between them, live at times is almost unbearable but I keep thinking I have the grandkids at least I was told if I did not take them as they were under five they would go up for adoption, their mother my sons wife had three more children with another partner all went up for adoption my son has learning difficulties so I am his appointee as well, but they are my family I was raised as you look after your own thankfully I have a daughter who helps she was only 15 when I got the eldest shes married now with two children of her own but still helps when she can

    • jonnymatthew

      Not sure I can take any more tonight!! 🙂 What a shocking story, Ann. The SGO seems to be a recurring theme: once it finishes in court, social services abandon the situation, leaving families to struggle on alone – it’s a disgrace! Thanks for sharing your story, Ann – I wish you all the very best and am sure the children will benefit from your commitment for the rest of their lives. J.

      • Helen Taylor

        Family members have a choice about an SGO, they can continue as carers under fostering regs if they wish, which includes allowances and support. An SGO is an order which gives then PR, support can be written into it, but the whole point is that social work involvement gives way to normal family life.

  • judifff

    Another fantastic post! Thank you for your continuing support in raising awareness for kinship carers.
    15 months into our SGO we still have no support from social services, I have asked continuously for support in dealing with contact and for the social worker to set up official letterbox system for us to use. Still nothing!
    They dont even have the decency to reply to emails/phone calls let alone give us the support these children need and deserve!

    • jonnymatthew

      Thanks Judith – appreciate your feedback very much! Letterbox contact is not a difficult thing to organise and has the minimum of resource implications for the Local Authority. I guess it’s just a stark illustration of the progress that’s needed to improve things for kinship carers. I take my hat off to you all! 🙂 cheers, J.

  • Melanie Nichols

    I think you have described many of our lives and I agree whole heartedly with your comments about contact. For us not only have we experienced many of the issues you have discussed but in addition the social worker requested that we go and collect our new born twin grandchildren from the hospital the day after they were born because he didn’t have time and didn’t have car seats. We did this as we felt we had no choice and it would look like we didn’t care if we didn’t but as you can imagine this ultimately put the nail in the coffin with regards to my relationship with the birth parents (birth father is my son) who already considered me to be a baby snatcher! I would ultimately become the woman who removed their children from them and they will never forgive me. My son hasn’t spoken to me since that day. Also social services passed contact over to me after SGO was made so my son has walked away from contact. How could children’s services get it so wrong. There are many other ways they have got it wrong but I would be writing all night. I think far more training is needed for social workers so they can fully understand and appreciate what kinship carers go through to keep their little ones safe. Not just the practical issues but also the emotional issues.

    • jonnymatthew

      I’m a bit gob-smacked, Melanie! It’s hard enough dealing with your own kids’ lives being in trouble. But to be blamed for the loss of their children too, is too much to ask for anyone. I feel for you! Can’t imagine how painful that must be. I only hope the positive impact you have on your grandchildren and the massively improved life chances they gain from your love and care, will be something of a reward for you. Shame you have to struggle on without support in the meantime, though… Thanks Melanie! J.

  • Alibobs

    Hi I am a retired adult social work manager and we too are special guardians to our two grandchildren who came to us as babies, we now live abroad in the EU. We went thro much of the same as written below by other kinship carers. Threats of adoption, promises of help with all sorts which were all retracted. As someone who had trained and managed social workers I was shocked that core values were totally disregarded by children services and at the lack of knowledge of so called qualified workers about risk and safeguarding and changing legislation like SGOs . Delayed incomplete and poorly written court paperwork by The social worker meant the case dragged on for years. We had planned to retire abroad to the holiday house we bought long before the grandchildren were born, so the courts agreed that we could take the children too, when that time came. Social services closed the case as soon as we got the SGO. Because of the lack of overall support, stress and worry retirement came a lot soon than we both anticipated and we faced a financial crisis of losing everything we had worked hard to achieve, so we sold up and moved. We had no other option, why should my grandchildren live in poverty in the UK because they are kinship kids.

    • jonnymatthew

      That’s for sharing your thoughts, Alison. It’s amazing that social services can do such a poor job when they know that you know what you’re doing, and you know what they’re supposed to be doing! Once again the SGO is a trigger point for them to back off so stridently. I’m now left wondering how we move it forward and rattle a few cages to get things improved… Cheers, Jonny.

  • Karen Steele

    I love reading your blogs! I think you have a budding fanclub……!

    • jonnymatthew

      Ha! Thanks Karen – though the amendments you and Debs made mean you can take more than a little credit!

      All these amazing and very sad stories will keep me awake! Lobbying for change takes time, but I think we need to keep writing stuff like this. I’m wondering about submitting something to another publication – may be one of the social work journals or professional magazines/newsletters.

      If we can get people to subscribe I can keep in touch more easily and we can pool our wisdom…

      Thanks again for your input, Karen. Cheers, Jonny.

  • jonnymatthew

    CAN I BE CHEEKY AND ENCOURAGE YOU GUYS TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE WEBSITE?

    Just fill in your name and email in the boxes at the top right of the home page ( http://www.JonnyMatthew.com ). I only send out blog posts twice a week, max; so you won’t be harassed with stuff from me. It’s free so I’m not after your wallet either!

    It would be good to able to keep in touch and work together to influence for change…

    🙂 THANKS! Cheers, Jonny.

  • Rosanna Watts

    Hi jonny I love how you have highlighted this. As so many of kingship cares can relate. As it could of been written about me. As I have struggled since day one with my two gd as they both have needs. One gd disabled and other gd AD. And I have never had any help or support from la in nearly five years. I have pleaded with ss to help us.and always got brush of from them. We also have never had financial help training nothing. And sw have left us to struggle in the most difficult situations. I really don’t know how sw sleep at night. Knowing how kingship carers have to live. So thank you for all you do. As I feel you could not of highlighted this better. Xx

    • jonnymatthew

      Thanks Rosanna – I’m worried now that I might have had your story in my subconscious and brought it out when writing! Now you mention it he name is even similar! 🙂 Seriously, though, the difficulties are accentuated further for everyone when children have particular needs like the ones you mention. And these are all the more fitted to receiving support from child & disability social work teams, who should be conducting assessments to determine what, if any, support can be offered. Have your kids been assessed, Rosanna? Thanks for chipping in once again! Cheers, J.

  • wendy carroll

    on a positive note because there are many ive become a single grandparent bringing up my granddaughter I get so many comments that people dont believe thats she’s gone thro so much because shes so well mannered very confident very polite shes excelling in school and has no problems at all infact shes a leader shes only 5 she knows her mum has another daughter who is her sister her dad my son has another child her brother she hasnt seen either since jan 09 and no contact eith ss since then either shes saving it all up 4 her teenage yrs lol the joys x

    • jonnymatthew

      Lovely, Wendy!

  • Alibobs

    Our positives are much the same as below, yes their are occasional issues and hiccups to deal with such as the legacy of FAS. But now at aged 7 and 8, well mannered, polite, very very confident, and out going, caring towards others and especially towards any animals including lately the crawly creatures, yuk, doing very well at school into which they integrated without a problem, bilingual in two languages, both reading and translation. They also tend to speak their mind, which can be a positive but sometimes a negative lol. But more importantly they are both loved to bits, and they know this.

    • jonnymatthew

      Being love – the best therapy of all! Thanks Alison! J.

  • jonnymatthew
  • Helen Taylor

    Kinship carers do have many of the same rights as foster carers, they are approved under fostering regs as connected persons, and most of the above does not happen in the LAs I know about.