Risk of influx of children into care if kinship carers do not get urgent support, charity warns

An influx of children into the care system could occur if the Government does not ensure urgent support for kinship carers who look after tens of thousands of children, a charity has warned.

Relatives and close friends who provide care for children across England and Wales are skipping meals and borrowing money as they struggle with the cost of living, Kinship said.

Carers seeking support face a postcode lottery, it warned, with councils not providing them with the financial, practical and emotional help they need.

This is increasing the risk that such children will need to enter the care system, it said.

Kinship care can be undertaken in many different forms, some informal, which determines the possible financial support available.

Kinship said the majority of kinship carers are not legally entitled to an allowance to cover living costs in the same way foster carers are, and any support they do get is means tested.

An opt-in survey of 1,564 kinship carers, carried out by the charity between July and August, found that 45% have given up jobs so they can care.

A fifth (21%) have had to dip into their pension pots, and in the last year 34% have borrowed money from friends or family, or taken out a short-term loan (17%).

Four in 10 respondents said they are skipping meals, using food banks and buying less food, while 59% said they will not put the heating on this winter, and 26% said they will not be able to pay bills on time.

More than three-quarters (78%) of carers felt they did not receive enough support from their local authority to meet the needs of the child they were caring for.

Some 33% of respondents did not get any financial help from the council, but Kinship said this is likely to be an underestimate as carers with formalised arrangements were overrepresented in the poll.

The majority of those surveyed said they did not receive information about being a kinship carer (71%), or had no support when the child moved in (64%).

And more than a third (36%) of carers who said they do not get the support they need said they may be unable to continue caring.

Kinship chief executive Dr Lucy Peake (pictured) said kinship carers have been “overlooked and undervalued for far too long”.

She said: “Without support, thousands of carers who have been pushed to the brink of despair may no longer be able to look after the children they love, risking an influx of children into the care system.

“It’s outrageous that in today’s society many kinship families will be cold and hungry this winter because they don’t receive enough support to maintain their basic human rights.”

The charity said financial allowances between foster and kinship carers should be equalised, councils should provide “significantly improved support and services”, and kinship carers should have a right to kinship care leave similar to adoption leave.

Former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield said: “We know that providing children with care from family or friends they know and trust can provide the kind of stability and support they may not find elsewhere.

“It also makes long-term financial sense, reducing costs on already stretched statutory services as fewer children end up going into an increasingly expensive care system.

“The Government should be doing all it can to recognise the value of kinship care, and to expand support for kinship carers, and make kinship care a key part of its children’s social care reform.”

Former president of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales, Sir James Munby, said a lack of support harms carers and the children they look after.

He said: “Children have far better outcomes in loving, secure and safe families but without this essential support more kinship carers may be unable to continue to care for them.

“Returning children to the care system would clearly be catastrophic for the children, the families who love them and our society as a whole. The Government must prevent this from happening.

“The Government needs to fund under-resourced local authorities so they can provide the crucial financial and emotional support kinship families so desperately need.”

Councillor Louise Gittins, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Despite councils diverting funding from other services into children’s social care to keep children safe, soaring demand means that councils are having to make exceptionally difficult decisions about where to focus their spending, and this can mean that support for kinship families is not always as comprehensive as councils would like it to be.”

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