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We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

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by Kinship Carer

Everything is relative, isn’t it? That saying seems especially appropriate for kinship carers who are looking after the children of family and friends. And also, because most of us are already financially poorer than we were before we did the right and loving thing. Even before the current cost of living crisis.

Some of us receive fostering allowances from our local authorities if our children are still “Looked After”, some receive Special Guardianship allowances – most of which are means-tested every year, so they don’t feel very secure.  And many of us – my own family included – receive nothing at all.  If our little one wasn’t entitled to Disability Living Allowance (DLA) because of his high needs, our family would be right up the proverbial creek.

Our little lad’s DLA has had to go a lot further recently – the increase in petrol and diesel being the main thing.  Kids with disabilities have to travel further than other children to go to school, access activities such as Special Education Needs (SEN) swimming or other clubs, and for therapies.  This is a particular issue in rural areas, where families can travel hundreds of miles every week just for our children to do “normal” things.  Of course, many other things we need have gone up too.  Our 10-year-old is still in nappies, and they cost a lot – as do all the wipes, and all the extra daily washing and drying of wet bedding and clothes.

Quite a lot of children in kinship care have either Reactive Attachment Disorder or demand-avoidant autistic spectrum disorders.   Walls, doors and windows are often damaged; toys, TVs and other things broken, as our children struggle to cope with their big feelings.  The costs of repairs and replacements have gone up.

I don’t think that the Prime Minister thinks about these things when she refuses to talk about increasing welfare benefits in line with inflation. I do hope that someone in Government is thinking about these things.

This winter, in my family, those of us living at home are going to be OK.   We’re lucky.   My husband has a job that’s relatively secure – that word again.  Though we don’t do holidays abroad or have an expensive car.  And we do hunt for the food with yellow stickers.  But we don’t have to think about being hungry or cold.

However, we do worry about close family and friends who are not so lucky.   Our adopted son is nearly 30 years old and has complex health issues.  He doesn’t earn much and lives alone.  Adoption – like kinship care – is for life, not just till aged 18.   I think people forget that.   This year we have been supporting him a lot more.  Groceries, food for his dog, and help with his electricity and Council Tax bills.

We have good friends, also adopters, who, having recently retired, have gone from supporting others to needing support themselves.  Just as their income has decreased, they now need to help their adult adopted children with fuel and rent and feeding their grandchildren.  They’ve even had to take their adult son back into the family home.  He isn’t able to contribute because he has so much debt himself, and long-term mental health problems – like so many adult adoptees.   Sadly, this lovely family now has to access the very foodbanks they used to give to.

Kinship care is a strange life.  We are often isolated.  But we usually have multiple caring responsibilities too.  A lot of us are grandparents or older relatives who are in the middle of the sandwich generation – with elderly relatives to look after as well as children and grandchildren.

I think that poverty is not as simple as it is painted.  People don’t live in bubbles of individual households.  Supporting adult children, extended family members and friends reduces what is left for ourselves.  Not just money, but time and energies too.   My own children will not suffer this winter, but increasingly we need to share more of what we have, and make decisions about reducing what we spend, and what we give to charities.  Christmas this year will be more about giving cash to our son and close friends to help them with everyday living, rather than buying luxuries.  We are spending and giving more but tightening the circle.

Another kinship care family had noticed that we were having fewer breaks and cut us a set of keys for their caravan, so that we can have a break or some space if we need it.  They know we’re not entitled to any Government or local authority support, and, as good friends, they know that our one salary has to go a very long way.  Isn’t that love in action?  But also, a sign of the times.  We are all looking out for our family and friends.  Are our loved ones looking after themselves?  Are they eating properly?  And what can we do to help?

This is something that many families are experiencing.  I’ve noticed more sharing of money-saving tips on social media (there is even a kinship carers cash savers group on Facebook), more seasonal foraging, and more sharing of information about warm hubs and places where children and the elderly can eat free or very cheaply.  A bit like during the pandemic, there is a coming together in communities to help those most in need.  And for families like ours, a strange combination of battening down the hatches and reaching out to others.  Love is always the answer.  But sometimes love isn’t always enough – there needs to be money too.

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