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Giving up the day job?

This report provides a picture of the employment status of grandparents and other relatives raising children (kinship carers) before and after taking on children, and explores the link between dropping out of the labour market and being a kinship carer.

There are around 200,000 grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles and other relatives in the UK bringing up 200,000-300,000 children because their parents are no longer able to, often due to severe difficulties such as parental death, drug or alcohol abuse, disability or serious illness, imprisonment, domestic violence, or abuse and neglect1. These carers are known as ‘kinship’ or ‘family and friends’ carers. Many of the children they are raising would be in care if their relative had not stepped in.

Since the implementation of the Children Act 1989 local authorities have been required to arrange for looked after children to live with family and friends where that is consistent with their welfare, and the Children and Young People’s Act 2008 states that family and friends care should be the first option when children cannot live with their parents. This principle has recently been restated in Statutory Guidance to local authorities on Family and Friends Care, published in April 2011.

Research shows that many children living in kinship care have suffered similar multiple traumas to those in local authority care, and a high proportion have emotional or
behavioural problems or a disability, often as a result of their experiences with their birth  families. A recent study concluded that 85% of children in kinship care who have had contact with children’s services face difficulties at the point when they come to live with their carer

Children may move into kinship care at any age, not just during the early years, and evidence from the 2001 Census shows that older children are disproportionately represented among those in kinship care compared with children in the population overall4. Kinship carers have no equivalent to maternity leave or adoption leave to help them settle children and deal with the huge upheaval in their lives when children move in, often with no notice. Many are not even entitled to unpaid parental leave. They may also be taking on several siblings at one time.

Kinship carers often have to deal with multiple appointments with schools, social workers and lawyers. They may have to arrange education, legal orders and financial support, at the same time as supporting the children and perhaps dealing with their own bereavement following the death of the child’s parent or the stress of difficult family circumstances.

A previous Grandparents Plus survey found that a high proportion of kinship carers face difficulties such as isolation, stress and stigma5. A high proportion live in poverty, with 65% reporting living on low incomes (below £300 a week), often as a result of giving up work when children move in.

Only a minority of kinship carers receive a financial allowance from the local authority or any kind of practical support.. There is no clear relationship between the needs of the children and whether or not the carers are entitled to receive support.

There is anecdotal evidence, including from calls to Grandparents Plus’ Advice and Information service, that feeling they may have to give up work is a powerful disincentive to becoming a kinship carer. We also know that placements may break down and children have to be taken into care or adopted because kinship carers fail to get financial support from the local authority and do not want to end up on benefits through having to give up work.

There is a strong economic case for supporting kinship carers to avoid children unnecessarily being taken into care. It costs £40,000 per annum to keep a child in
independent foster care, and there is a national shortage of 9,000 foster carers. Children in care also face increased risk of poverty and other adverse outcomes in adulthood. Although outcomes for children in care have improved in recent years, there remains a significant and widening gap between these and the outcomes for all children. They are over-represented in a range of vulnerable groups including those not in education, employment or training post-16, teenage parents, young offenders, drug users and prisoners.
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Most important of all, children in kinship care feel loved and secure and are able to maintain links with their birth families. The placements tend to be more stable than with unrelated foster carers and children’s behaviour is perceived to be less problematic.