Poor support for family carers unacceptable says minister

Boys play football in doorway Children in poor, inner-city areas are more likely to be raised by other family members, researchers say

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A government minister has dubbed "unacceptable" the lack of support for carers who look after the children of other family members.

Edward Timpson, minister for children and families, says so-called kinship carers "often struggle on alone without the support they desperately need".

Many families using informal kinship care arrangements live in severe poverty, suggests a report.

The study, for the charity Buttle UK, says kinship carers need more support.

Because the majority of these arrangements are informal, carers often have no automatic right to financial support for the children's upkeep or are not informed of what support they are entitled to claim, says the report by the University of Bristol.

The researchers suggest that each child cared for in this way can save the taxpayer between £23,000 and £56,000 a year.

'Basic necessities'

This is the second part of a study into the issue. The first part, in 2011, drew on figures from the 2001 census showing that some 173,200 children, or one in 77 children, were being brought up by grandparents and other relatives.

The new research looks in detail at the lives of 80 children and their carers across the UK.

Many of these families live in poverty, with some 31% of those interviewed able to provide some basic necessities, it finds.

Over a third (37%) cannot afford warm winter clothes for the children and one in five cannot afford toys and sports equipment for them.

The majority of these children live with their grandparents but some 38% are being brought up by sisters or brothers, say the researchers.

The young carers often miss out on further education or employment and these families are often the poorest of all, according to the study.

Because so many of the carers are grandparents, many (73%) report long-term health problems or disabilities.

The study finds that these arrangements often come about suddenly and after a family crisis.

Drug and alcohol abuse play a part in just over two thirds of cases (67%). More than a third (34%) have experienced the death of one or both parents.

Some 88% of the carers say the children have been abused or neglected while they lived with their parents. About one third (34%) of the children have severe behavioural and emotional difficulties.

The report argues that although these children's backgrounds are similar to those of children in the care system, local authority children's services often refuse to help, regarding these as essentially private arrangements.

It argues for better financial support for these families, including a national allowance, better legal and financial information, more assistance from local authorities and better awareness among GPs, teachers and solicitors.

'Enormous challenges'

Prof Elaine Farmer of Bristol University said: "It is a matter of concern that carers' attempts to get services for needy children are sometimes summarily dismissed by statutory services, adding to the strain they are under.

She added that government guidance that support should be based on the needs of the child rather than their legal status is not being followed.

Mr Timpson, whose parents fostered more than 80 children, said many had come from chaotic difficult backgrounds: "I have seen first-hand the enormous challenges carers face. Yet today's report shows that kinship carers, the unsung heroes of the care world, often struggle on alone without the support they desperately need."

He called the situation unacceptable and said that the government had introduced legal powers placing responsibility on councils to provide kinship carers with the right help and assistance.

Buttle UK called on the government actively to monitor and report on local authorities that were not following the statutory guidance.

Councillor David Simmonds, of the Local Government Association, said: "People providing a home for a child within their family will be able to access support and advice, including on benefits, housing and financial support from their council.

"Family-and-friend carers perform a special service for both their child and society, and councils are working hard to ensure they get the recognition and support they deserve.

"Local authorities are keen to look at how this can be improved as part of the wider picture of providing a high-quality care system while managing significant cuts to their budgets."

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