Grandparents Plus has been campaigning for greater recognition of the role of kinship carers and better support including a period of paid leave when they take on the care of a child similar to adoptive parents.
But the group said there are growing concerns from family members who believe the government’s drive on adoption is overlooking their contribution.
Laura, a 43-year-old who has been raising her two grandchildren aged three and six, said: “Kinship care should not be portrayed as an inferior choice to adoption. We feel like we are second class citizens and this is so wrong.”
According to the charity for every child adopted from care each year there are more than 70 living with kinship carers. Legally, children’s services should first consider placing children with other family members before exploring other options, including adoption.
Paula, who is raising her cousin’s son, said: “I am a firm advocate of adoption but it should be the second choice. The first should always be the wider family, provided that is in the child’s best interests.
“Family members should be involved in decisions and given an opportunity to take over their care, with help and support from children’s services if needed.”
There are around 200,000 family and friend carers in the UK.
Grandparents Plus is calling for a national financial allowance for kinship carers and better access to services for kinship carers and the children they are looking after including peer support groups, family group conferencing and counselling and child and adolescent mental health services.
Sam Smethers, chief executive of Grandparents Plus, said: “No one wants to see children left in care when they could have a permanent home with a loving family. But the first step should be to ensure that grandparents and other family members are properly considered when children cannot live with their parents.
“Simply speeding up adoption assessments could result in rushed decisions which aren’t in children’s best interests. It's time the vital role kinship carers play in providing security and stability for vulnerable children was properly recognised and supported.”