Kinship care and the cost-of-living: A system broken for decades

Sharon McPherson
Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Summer is usually the season when the sunshine brings joy and hope to the hearts and homes of many.

Kinship carers are facing a severe impact of the cost-of-living crisis, experts warn. Picture: Adobe Stock
Kinship carers are facing a severe impact of the cost-of-living crisis, experts warn. Picture: Adobe Stock

Instead, we have been bombarded with prime ministerial leadership battles and parliamentary controversies, alongside the cost-of-living crisis hardships, industrial strikes and forecasts of a looming recession. These challenges come at a point where the children’s social care system is facing its greatest challenges and opportunities in decades.

Despite the distractions and seemingly justifiable reasons for delay, finding a way forward to implement the recommendations in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care must remain a priority. Repairing the holes in the safety net that is meant to safeguard the most vulnerable children in society should be part of a systemic strategy to address poverty, social mobility, and equality injustices.

I am co-founder of the social enterprise Families in Harmony, campaigning for racial equity in kinship care, the development of racial and cultural trauma-informed practice and African Caribbean-centred parenting programmes.

As a kinship carer and social justice campaigner, I am noticing the voice of kinship carers is increasingly being heard through the filter of national children’s charities, in contrast to foster carers and adopters who have a more visible direct lived experienced advocacy presence. This devolution of agency and power has benefits and conflict of interests present. When social listening to the direct voices of kinship carers in protected social media forums such as Facebook groups, the frustrations, and feelings of being the poor relatives within children’s social care is taking its toll.

Foster Talk released the findings from their 2022 Cost of Living Crisis survey which had over 4000 respondents. The findings revealed that 43 per cent of respondents were considering ceasing fostering in the next two years if additional financial assistance was not made available. 56 per cent had no increase in allowances in the last six to 12 months and of the 90 per cent who had received an uplift, they felt it did not cover the rising cost of living. Three per cent had used a food bank in the last six months and 38 per cent had experienced negative mental health due to the cost-of-living crisis. These statistics are alarming coming from a professionally financed body of children social care workforce, demonstrating the financial strain foster carers are under.

Kinship Charity also released its findings from their 2022 Financial Allowances Survey. This survey had nearly 1500 respondents caring for 2,006 children. The findings revealed 89 per cent of respondents had worries linked to the cost-of-living crisis in the last 12 months.

Some 44 per cent could not pay all their household bills. 26 per cent experience food poverty. 35 per cent could not meet basic clothing needs. 31 per cent struggled to meet education equipment needs. 18 per cent were behind with rent or mortgage payments. Whilst 45 per cent could not afford the cost of enrichment activities for children in their care and 72 per cent reported their mental health was being impacted negatively because of their financial situation.

As someone whose academic strength is not maths, I did not need to be a statistician to see that the cost-of-living crisis is having almost an 100 per cent impact increase on kinship carers mental wellbeing in comparison to foster carers.

The findings validate the thousands of seldom heard voices of kinship carers sharing in the safe havens of social media peer support closed groups. The stats provide evidence of the disparity in standards and living conditions between foster families and kinship families. There were approximately 2,500 less kinship carer respondents to foster carer respondents, but there were 23 per cent more kinship families requiring food bank assistance.

In comparison to foster carers who all receive an allowance, it is unclear how many kinship carers have been granted Child Arrangement Orders, Residency Orders or private Special Guardianship Orders that have no financial allowance attached to them. Those expected to care for a child or children who potentially would have been in the care of the state under a financed fostering agreement. In addition to this, these unfinanced placements are putting already vulnerable children at greater risk of having their basic rights of food, heating, shelter and clothing compromised. Unlike our foster care colleagues, kinship carers do not have a worker’s union uniting and empowering us to advocate for our own equity advancements in standards of services, support, policies, and rights.

Special Guardianship Orders have been in effect since 2005, 17 years and we are still debating the fundamentals of which children should be given access to allowances that help to feed, clothes and keep them warm.

The cost-of-living crisis in kinship care didn’t start with Ofgem price cap rises, the Covid-19 Pandemic or Ukraine war impact, it’s been broken for decades. We (everyone who cares about the welfare of children and young people) have a genuine opportunity to repair our current broken children’s social care system. Start by being the change you want to see and using your positions of influence to amplify the call for human rights justice in kinship care.

Sharon McPherson is co-founder of Families in Harmony

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