Questioning the lack of support for children in kinship care

Lucy Peake
Friday, October 1, 2021

There is a lack of specialist support for traumatised and vulnerable children living in kinship care.

Lucy Peake is chief executive of Kinship. Picture: Kinship
Lucy Peake is chief executive of Kinship. Picture: Kinship

Children living in kinship care are there for a reason. Around 200,000 children in the UK are being brought up by their grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles or family friends – usually because their parents are unable to look after them, and – in all likelihood – because they have experienced abuse and/or neglect. The trauma they have suffered in the past will be very similar to that of children living in foster care – yet the support they receive can be worlds apart.

We recently carried out a survey among over 1,600 kinship carers, and many of the respondents told us the children they were raising had suffered neglect (49 per cent) or abuse (13 per cent) or had lived with domestic violence (34 per cent). These children are likely to need support for the long-term physical and mental health conditions that often develop after experiencing this type of trauma; almost two thirds (62 per cent) of survey respondents believed their children had long-term health needs.

However, while around three times more children are growing up in kinship care than foster care, these vulnerable children receive less support to help them cope with their past experiences and to thrive in the future. Unlike children who are fostered, children living in kinship care do not undergo a formal health assessment before or while living with carers, so opportunities to refer children for counselling or to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) can be missed.

Almost a third (30 per cent) of kinship carers responding to our survey felt their children were not getting the support they needed. A child’s formal diagnosis can be a gateway to receiving support – but only 33 per cent had received one (40 per cent were diagnosed with anxiety or depression, 38 per cent with behavioural issues, and 38 per cent with an attachment disorder). Thirty-six per cent of the children had special educational needs – three times the national average of 12 per cent. Furthermore, 64 per cent of carers reported that the Covid-19 restrictions had a negative impact on their children’s physical and mental wellbeing.

And it is not just support for trauma-related conditions in children that is missing. Further inequalities in the system mean there is a lack of support for the kinship carers who have stepped in to do the right thing.

Bringing up someone else’s child is a huge, life-changing responsibility. Kinship carers are also more likely to be older, in poorer health, insecurely housed, socially isolated and living in poverty compared to other groups raising children. Yet, all too often, kinship carers do not receive the help – or recognition – they desperately need and deserve, whether on a financial, practical or emotional level. For example, kinship carers are not legally entitled to an allowance in the same way as foster carers are, and are not entitled to paid employment leave, whereas adopters are.

This does not give kinship care families a fair chance of success – it places them under huge stress and risks them falling apart, and the children potentially ending up in costly state care. Evidence shows that well-supported kinship care leads to better outcomes for children than the care system – but to have the best chance of being stable, long-term and successful, children and kinship carers need access to effective support services. We work with many local authorities that are developing kinship care support and they have seen positive results, including increased stability.

Kinship works in collaboration with local authorities across England and Wales to empower kinship carers to build stable homes for the children in their care. It offers a range of support services that can be commissioned.

Lucy Peake is chief executive of Kinship.

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