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New lockdown survey reveals severe strains on kinship carers

Published: 1st February 2021

6 minute read

01.02.2021

PARLIAMENTARY TASKFORCE ON KINSHIP CARE

New survey highlights pressing need for overlooked carers to be prioritised for vaccination as key workers

Kinship carers are facing severe strains on their capacity to balance health, financial hardship and the wellbeing and educational needs of children who might otherwise be in the care system, finds a survey commissioned by the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care.

  • Kinship care is where a child, who is unable to live with their parents, is being raised by a friend or family member. Kinship carers are commonly grandparents and there are around 200,000 children in the UK raised by kinship carers.
  • The survey of kinship carers, carried out in January 2021, found:
    • A quarter of kinship carers said that they have a limiting long-term illness or disability. 23% of respondents indicated that they have been required to shield during the course of the pandemic.
    • Over a third (36%) have other caring responsibilities outside of the home, in the main for elderly parents or parents in law.
    • Almost half of children being raised by kinship carers (49%) have special needs or disabilities. Almost one in three kinship children has an education health and care plan demonstrating significant levels of additional needs.
    • The three biggest worries of kinship carers during the latest stage of the pandemic are their child/children’s emotional and mental wellbeing (71%), concern for what will happen to the child if they (i.e. the carer) gets the virus (65%) and the child/children’s education (58%).
    • Over a third of respondents say they are facing financial hardship and one in five of all respondents have seen that hardship exacerbated as a result of the pandemic.
    • Almost a third of respondents are living in inappropriate or temporary housing for their family.
    • 32% families indicated they would find support with equipment for remote learning helpful but had not been offered it. 37% expressed the same wish for help with access to broadband/data for remote learning.
    • Half of kinship carers believe their child/children need additional support to catch up on education.
  • The cross-party Parliamentary Taskforce of MPs and Peers is proposing that foster carers and all kinship carers, regardless of the child’s legal status, should be prioritised in the vaccination programme by being classed as key workers.
  • The Taskforce is also proposing additional support with education, access to therapeutic support, legal advice, and welfare support.

The Taskforce’s recommendations for Government action:

1.  Educational support for kinship children

  • Ensure all kinship children can access equipment and data for remote learning.
  • All children in kinship care, where there is professional evidence of additional need, should be included within the remit of the National Tutoring Programme.
  • Consider extending the remit of Virtual School Heads and Pupil Premium Plus to all children in kinship care.

2.  Access to therapeutic support

  • Extend the Adoption Support Fund to all children being raised by kinship carers, who are unable to live with their parents.

3.  Financial support

  • Consider how welfare flexibility can prevent kinship care families from being pushed into severe poverty. This should include the under occupation penalty (‘bedroom tax’), the Benefit Cap, Universal Credit including the Covid-19 uplift, and Pension Credit.
  • Consider the how the right of adopters to paid employment leave and protection could be extended to kinship carers.

4.  Access to justice for kinship carers

  • For the Ministry of Justice to deliver the promised extension of legal aid to special guardians in private law proceedings as a matter of urgency.
  • Consider how to address the comparable gaps in legal aid provision in public law and pre-proceedings.

5.  Vaccination programme

  • All carers, including foster carers and all kinship carers, regardless of the child’s legal status, should be prioritised in the vaccination programme by being classed as keyworkers.

Kinship carers commented on the difference the vaccine would make to them:

“It would give me peace of mind as my biggest fear is catching Covid 19 & the implications for my kin child.”

“A big difference – due to our age nearly 60 and 60+ would give confidence in being able to provide long term care for our two and three year old grandchildren.”

“An enormous difference.  Having to still take two young ones to school and have them continue contact with parents is a worry – it is contact with other people that I cannot avoid.  It would be absolutely reassuring to have the vaccine.”

Catherine McKinnell MP, Chair of the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care said:

“Kinship carers have done the right thing by the kinship children they are raising, ensuring they can remain within their family network and providing them with a safe and loving home. Many were struggling before the pandemic, and these pressures have worsened during the repeated lockdowns. The support Government has put in place is welcome but there is a need for more bespoke help.

“A significant number of these carers are balancing long term illnesses and disabilities and caring for children with high needs, while dealing with financial struggles and the challenges of home education. Priority vaccination as keyworkers, and other support including welfare flexibility and specific educational provision, would provide protection and relief to carers and children that have paid a heavy price during the pandemic.”

The survey was carried out in January 2021 by the Family Rights Group, who provide the secretariat to the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care.

Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group said:

“Kinship carers and their children have a significant amount of additional need and are often juggling many other responsibilities, meaning their struggle during lockdown is even more acute than the wider population. They are doing a tremendous job in incredibly difficult circumstances. Many are understandably worried about what will happen to the children, who have often already suffered loss and trauma, if they becomes ill with the virus.

“It’s clear from this survey and our work with kinship carers that the strain can be immense – financially, practically and emotionally. Some are also having to cope with local authority and legal processes, currently often taking place by phone, with kinship carers often unrepresented in court proceedings relating to the child.

“This report sets out some immediate steps that the Government could take to relieve some of these strains on kinship care families, to mitigate the lasting harm of the pandemic on children who have already often experienced significant loss, and their carers who’ve stepped up to do right by these children.”

Notes:

  1. The Cross-Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care aims to raise awareness about, and support for, children in kinship care and to highlight the importance of this option for children who cannot live with their parents. It is chaired by Catherine McKinnell MP and is open to all MPs and Peers
  2. Family Rights Group is the charity that works with parents in England and Wales whose children are in need, at risk or are in the care system and with members of the wider family who are raising children unable to remain at home. It advises parents, grandparents, other relatives and friends about their rights and options when social workers or courts make decisions about their children’s welfare.
  3. The survey was carried out by Family Rights Group between 8th and 15th January 2021. It heard from 605 respondents, who are raising 889 kinship children and a further 238 birth children. Most respondents are grandparents raising their grandchildren and nearly 4 in 10 are single households.
  4. The full survey and recommendations can be read here.

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