140,000 children across the UK ‘forgotten and let down’

140,000 children across the UK are being raised by grandparents and other family and friend carers due to parental alcohol or substance misuse, according to a new survey released today by Grandparents Plus.

The charity is joining forces with The Children’s Society, Adfam and Mentor UK to highlight the plight of carers raising children under challenging circumstances – who are saving the taxpayer an estimated £5.5 billion a year in care costs. The survey reveals that parental drug or alcohol abuse is the single biggest reason why grandparents step in to bring up children, with almost half (46%) stating this was the main reason or one of the main reasons. 1 in 10 children in the UK are affected by parental alcohol abuse while 1 in 25 are affected by parental substance misuse. The rise in heavy drinking, particularly among young women, and the increase in the numbers of problem drug users may lead to even more children living with grandparents or other relatives in future. Other factors leading to children being brought up by family and friend carers include parental abuse or neglect, imprisonment, illness, disability, bereavement and domestic violence. Many of the carers who are coping with parental alcohol or drug misuse are also dealing with one or more of these other factors. The survey also shows: * Almost half (47%) of family and friend carers raising children due to parental drug or alcohol are likely to be struggling financially. Only 4 in 10 (37%) receive any financial support from their local authority. * They are particularly likely to have a difficult relationship with the child’s parents. 1 in 3 (32%) describe the relationship with the child’s mother as ‘difficult’ and 1 in 4 (24%) have no contact, while only 22% describe the relationship as ‘good’. Over 4 out of 10 (43%) report no contact with the child’s father. * Half (49%) say they are looking after at least one child with a disability or special needs. Children in this group are particularly likely to experience emotional or behavioural problems, reflecting the often difficult experiences they may have had before they came to live with their grandparents or carers. * Over half (53%) of the carers have a chronic health condition or disability themselves. 52% say they are stressed and a further 11% report feeling depressed. Just 2% receive help from social services with their health condition or disability. * 7 out of 10 (71%) of carers say they are “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their experience of children’s social services. Of those who requested help from children’s services, only 1 in 4 (25%) said they got the help they needed. Grandparents Plus is calling for better access to services and support for family and friend carers and protection from the impact of welfare reform and spending cuts. Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of Grandparents Plus said: “We know that these carers are struggling in some of the most difficult and challenging circumstances. The children they care for are all too often forgotten and let down by service providers. If they were in the care system it would cost £5.5 billion each year in care costs alone.” “We want to see their care recognised, valued and supported. But cuts to local authority budgets combined with welfare reform will penalise them and risk more children going into care. That makes no sense for the children, our overburdened care system or the taxpayer.” The new findings will be launched at a seminar in the House of Lords on Wednesday 2nd February, hosted by Baroness Massey of Darwen. The seminar will explore the evidence and look at how they and their carers should be better supported, as despite the many issues they are facing they are frequently overlooked by service providers and policy makers. The stigma often attached to drug and alcohol problems means families can feel excluded from their communities. Services to support friend and family carers such as peer to peer support groups are invaluable and help to ease feelings of isolation. However local authority budget cuts mean these services are under threat. Joanna Manning, Programme Manager of The Children’s Society’s STARS National Initiative – a hub of information, support and guidance for practitioners on parental substance misuse – said: “Children have expressed to us the importance of grandparents in their lives. They have spoken of grandparents’ kindness, help and constant availability. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that so many grandparents care for their grandchildren because of parental drugs or alcohol misuse. Practitioners and services must be confident and competent to adopt an approach that considers the whole family.” Andrew Brown for Mentor UK added: “Children whose parents have drug or alcohol problems are extremely vulnerable, with one recent report suggesting that children of alcoholics are two to four times more likely than other children to become addicted to alcohol themselves. “Our work across seven European countries has been focused on trying to understand the needs of family and friend carers, and has confirmed that these placements, properly supported, can reduce the likelihood of future drug problems. But all too often family and friend carers find they’re treated as second class citizens.”