Thursday, 12 April 2012

Being a kinship carer

I am aware that I very rarely speak about actually being a kinship carer, partially because I feel it would be disloyal to my daughter and partially because it is dull reading for anyone not in our position.  But there was a news article concerning the rise in care applications reported today by the BBC that I feel qualified to comment on.  I quickly scanned through for the salient points:

  • Chief executive of Cafcass, Anthony Douglas, said this was the first time care demand figures had broken the 10,000 mark over a 12 month period.
  • Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group said: "The care system is really struggling to cope with the rising numbers of care order applications..."
  • Ms Ashley called for more to be done early on to help members of children's wider families, for instance older siblings and grandparents, to take on the raising of children unable to live with their parents.

I don't know about anyone's else experience, because I very rarely meet other nans who are bringing up their grandchildren, but I can comment on our experience.  Let's just say that Childrens Services and CAFCASS (excluding our lovely social worker Louise who wrote the final court report for us) really don't give two hoots about where a child is placed UNLESS it looks like a placement might break down and thereby cost them money.  For example when C came to us at 12ish weeks, emergency social workers verified our identity and her safety OVER THE PHONE (our daughter was in hospital at the time); deigned to visit a few weeks later - although goodness knows what could have happened to C within those few weeks if we had been 'another' kind of person - then promptly washed their hands of their responsibility.

At this point, for me, there was internal conflict: whilst you WANT Childrens Services to go away and let you take care of your daughter and grand-daughter; you are also aware that down the road a foster carer is being paid on average an allowance of £350 a week (in some cases, much more).  Whilst I don't begrudge genuine foster carers a single penny that they receive, one has to ask does it REALLY cost foster carers that much more than kinship carers to bring up a child?  Also, as incentives increase with the increasing number of children needing care, aren't Children's Services (and private fostering agencies) in danger of placing children in homes where the income is more important than the needs of the child?  Ergo,the obvious place to look for foster carers would be within the family (although I accept that 'family' can often mean little more than shared DNA!).

Children's Services would argue that is what they currently do.  What they don't say it that they scare you and bombard you with horror stories and legal jargon to send you down a route, the residency order route, which gets you out of their hair and 'off their books' as soon as possible.  They are worried that for as long as you don't take this route, they are still responsible for the child and that may cost them money.  Money they pay to foster carers.  But why do foster carers within the family, "kinship carers", like us, not get a penny?  If you have the energy to fight Children's Services; and if you can afford a solicitor; and if you are lucky, then you MAY get a discretionary means-tested payment, although this varies from authority to authority.

Of course, family is family and a large part of me thinks: why should I get an allowance from the state to look after one of my own?  But then the other part of me replies: actually, children aren't cheap and when one has not planned to have them; had to make huge life changes to accommodate them (financial and otherwise); and has actually saved the local authority from a huge foster care bill; then why is an "allowance" so unreasonable?  Is what I am doing different to what a foster carer does, even though I do it with limitless love and a life-long commitment?  Who in their right mind would choose to trade being a grandparent for a weekly allowance?

Maybe the government will have a rethink and give kinship carers the recognition they deserve.  Pah, maybe they won't.  You know what?  The truth is that I really don't care.  The only recognition I need is from a little curly-haired girl.  The same little girl who sticks stickers on my eyes; offers to kiss me better when I hurt myself; and insists on endless renditions of "row row row your boat".  I completely adore her and that's all the recognition I need.


  1. How does the situation differ between kinship carer and foster carer in respect to one or both of the biological parents being in a positon to care for their own child again?

  2. As far as I am aware the situation is the same, depending of course on the type of order given. The main difference is that the Local Authority would apply to the Courts for a care order and then place the child with a foster carer; whereas a kinship carer would apply to the Courts directly. With regard to biological parents, once an order has been made (unless it is an irreversible adoption order or there are special conditions in the original order) then biological parents - or family or anyone really - are free to apply to the court *for leave to apply* for a revocation of or ammendment to any existing court order. Of course, it is up to the court whether it agrees to grant leave or not.

  3. We are going through the same thing over here in the US. We have passed a law aiming to give family members the first opportunity to foster, because statistics show that those placements are more lasting and successful. Also, family members who foster are supposed to be able to draw the foster child allowances. The reality, unfortunately, doesn't yet match up with the law. I guess it takes time to change operating procedures.