How much does it cost to look after a child?
5 minute read
by David Simpson – kinship carer
As a Kinship Carer, I often feel I’m banging my head against the issue of how much does it cost to care for a child? Anyone would probably say, the more money you have, the better. But all our households and lifestyles are different, so there is no perfect answer. But this is something that many people focus on when it comes to the prospect of becoming a kinship carer and thinking of the success of the future placement.
Can we afford it? Most kinship families when asked this question honestly would have to say “barely” and that’s the truth. And this was before the cost-of-living crisis happened, not only affecting the cost of our energy, but also our food and other consumables. It is not a question that can be answered quickly, and to be honest, my answer would probably change on a regular basis.
When many families are approached by children’s services to take on a child, one of the main issues they’re faced with is how is a two-Income family going to manage when one of them is required by the local authority to give up their job to care for this child? Especially when many of them have suffered early life trauma and need ongoing additional support.
In the blink of an eye one of the adults in your home loses their salary and their future pension rights. Now, if the allowances being offered to compensate for these losses existed, this may not be such a significant issue, but that is not the case.
The financial package, for those even eligible, that a kinship carer is going have to accept to care for a child they love and want to protect from future harm, barely covers the costs for that child. There is little or nothing left for anything else. And our biggest fear when attempting to campaign on this issue is that the Government will interrupt our pleas as complaints that “we all want to get the same” and remove the ‘means-tested’ method of assessment currently being used by the benefits agency and local authorities and standardise the payments across the country like they have already done with other benefits. But a payment in one city may be reasonable, but for a kinship family in a more expensive city, it may not even touch the sides.
However, as essential as the money may be, for me, the biggest issue facing kinship carers is not money, it is support. The number of times I’ve attended meetings with kinship carers and heard the phrase “Did you know…?” being uttered, followed by excellent facts and/or tips that many of us didn’t know about, is insane. Why is this? Because once a kinship placement is made, many of us feel more or less abandoned. Now, I do appreciate that this is not always the case, and I am sure that some kinship carers are properly supported, but most of us have expressed feelings of being dropped, without being told where to go next or even if there is a next to go to.
If someone asked me what I would want on day one of considering becoming a kinship carer, offering to look after a child so that they didn’t become part of the care system. Accepting far less in allowances than the real cost of care, and ensuring a better quality of life for that child, the one thing I would want is information. A clear guide as to what the steps are, what we are entitled to (even if they had to use vague wishy-washy words like ‘may’, ‘could’ or ‘should’) and where we can go to for support.
I have spent countless hours trawling through websites, links and pages and pages of jargon to find the one piece of information that would help my family. This is time that could be used for other things and yet every roadblock, whether it be entitlement to child benefit, school meals, special guardianship payments or access to therapy or counselling is hidden behind a wall of hyperlinks and small print.
Surely, if the kinship carers don’t deserve to be treated better after everything we have done, the children we care for should. Come on, this needs to change. So my wish for 2023 is for the government to implement the recommendations of the Independent Review on Children’s Social Care and Family Rights Group’s Time to Define briefing which illustrate how improvements can be made. And if anyone wants to hear the voices of those with lived experience there are many of us, kinship carers on FRG’s kinship panel, who are more than willing to talk to them.