Siblings who raise brothers and sisters ‘are being failed by social services’

The first study into sibling carers finds they struggle more than others to obtain practical and financial support

Siblings who raise younger brothers and sisters are being failed by social care services, according to the first report into the issue, Big Bruv, Little Sis.

The report, launched on Thursday by the Labour MP Alan Johnson and the Family Rights Group, found that even more than other family and friends, sibling carers struggle to obtain the practical and financial support they need.

“Our report reveals that too often we’re failing those who most need our help – with the research study citing example after example of social care services making these young people’s situation so much harder than it need have been rather than giving them the support they desperately require,” said Cathy Ashley, editor of the report.

Between 200,000 and 300,000 children are raised by relatives and friends in Britain. Most are raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, but a small but significant number are raised by older siblings.

Johnson, who was looked after by his older sister during his childhood, welcomed the research. He said it “finally” reveals that “our child welfare system still has a long way to go in giving these carers and the children the support and respect that they desperately need”.

Johnson paid tribute to “the amazing determination and sacrifices” of sibling carers who have to “juggle their education, or put their career and relationship on hold, in order to give their young siblings the support and care they need”.

From September all local authorities must have a policy outlining the support available to sibling carers. But that will not close one of the loopholes identified by the research, which means sibling carers cannot access practical and emotional support – including social work support – because the local authority’s eligibility criteria are often restricted to cases which border on child protection.

“Despite the child often having acute emotional and behavioural problems, they are often unable to access care. Ironically, they are excluded because their siblings are now providing safe care for the child,” said Ashley, who said she hopes the report will be a “wake-up call” to social workers, local authority managers and politicians.

Sibling carers acquire parental responsibility if they get a residence or special guardianship order. But, the report reveals, local authorities have no obligation to provide support services to carers. “The special guardian may be entitled to state benefits, including child benefit and tax credits, but this does not equate to carers having a right to having their individual needs met,” said Ashley.

Paul Prescod was 22 when his mother walked out of the family home, leaving six siblings between six and 16 years old. He gave up his studies and his job to fight for a special guardianship order that would enable him to keep his family together.

“I was ignored and mocked by social services,” he said. “They seemed to go out of their way to make it difficult for me, from refusing to take me seriously to taking four months to agree to give us the family home – preferring to split the family up than transfer my mother’s tenancy of the home we had all grown up in.

“Sibling carers are taken for granted by social services. I was a close member of the same family who wanted to take on six young children. They couldn’t have made it more difficult for me.”