Kinship carers are being 'ignored and exploited' by the system, MPs are warned

Victoria Ward
Anna Turley MP is leading the taskforce - Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament

Grandparents and other relatives who step in to care for children to avoid them being taken into foster care are being “ignored and exploited” by the system, creating a “volcano that is about to erupt,” MPs have been warned.

A parliamentary task force, established in December to examine the issue has been told that the army of grandparents, aunts and uncles who find themselves, sometimes overnight, with the burden of raising someone else’s children must be given legislative rights to ensure they have adequate financial and emotional support.

Anna Turley, Labour MP for Redcar who is leading the taskforce, acknowledged that many kinship carers, as they are known, receive little or no support and that the current system was a “huge postcode lottery”.

An estimated 200,000 children are being raised such carers in the UK because their parents are unable to care for them- more than those who are adopted or in local authority care.

More than half are grandparents and around a quarter are siblings. Some 50 per cent have to give up their jobs to take on the unforeseen responsibility.

Most step in to prevent children from having to go into care, often due to parental drug or alcohol misuse, abuse, neglect or bereavement.

But kinship carers have no entitlement to statutory support. The financial impact can be particularly difficult for grandparents, who may have planned for retirement but suddenly find themselves raising young children on their pension.

Dr Lucy Peake, chief executive of Grandparents Plus, warned that some families were being plunged into poverty and that children who had already suffered were being denied the help they need.  

“Carers tell us they are consistently ignored and exploited by a system that fails to recognise them,” she said.

“It’s no longer an option to tinker around the edges of the issue. These are systemic problems, and there needs to be a complete overhaul of how carers are treated, supported and recognised.”

Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group, said: ”We need to turn the system on its head. The number of children in the care system is the highest since 1985. The right support system, including legislation, funding and enforcement, needs to be in place for these families."

Meyrem Soneram is bringing up her sister's three children  Credit: Paul Grover

Ms Turley said her main aim was to ensure that kinship care was taken seriously by government.

“This is the first time MPs have come together to specifically work on kinship care and we are already raising awareness amongst MPs, ministers and officials which pushing this up the agenda,” she said.

“So many kinship carers receive little or no support and there is a huge postcode lottery.”

She said it was clear that a universal level of support would end the “massive disparity” in provision for kinship carers in different parts of the country but acknowledged that it would have to be backed up with legislation as well as financial support for cash-strapped councils.

Ms Turley said there was an expectation that because these children already have a relationship with family members, that they provide a ready made support network meaning the state does not need to worry.

“This couldn’t be further from reality for many families, who may never have raised children or may have not done so for some time if they are now grandparents,” she added.