New study examines experiences of children in informal kinship care
Buttle UK and the University of Bristol have published, what they describe as, the most comprehensive picture to date across the UK of informal kinship care – children cared for informally by relatives and friends because their parents are no longer able to look after them.
The Poor Relations: Children and Informal Kinship Carers Speak Out examines both the child’s perspective of living in an informal kinship care setting and the views of their carers. It provides insights into how well, both emotionally and academically, these children are doing, how this compares with children in the formal care system and what impact such arrangements have on both children and carers.
It also gives an authoritative account of the financial hardship, sacrifice, isolation and the cost to health of the relatives bringing up children across the UK with little or no statutory support – often at very little notice. The report calculates that each child cared for by an informal kinship carer saves the taxpayer between £23,500 and £56,000 a year.
Drug and alcohol problems feature heavily in the background of the parents in this new research, causing a child’s move into informal kinship care – which is often sudden and crisis-driven. Findings show that just over two-thirds (67%) of these children are abandoned by parents who are affected by alcohol or drug misuse, including nearly a quarter (24%) who are misusing both.
Exposure to domestic violence and parental mental illness was also common. These parents’ chaotic lives put their children at risk and led to parental indifference (64%) and to active rejection (26%) of their children. Relatives and friends stepped in to care for them.
Other key findings are:
- While the majority are living with a grandparent, the first part of the study published in 2011 showed that as many as 38 per cent of kinship children in the UK are being brought up by a sister or brother. They are the poorest of all informal kinship carers.
- The carers said that most of the children (88%) had been abused or neglected while they lived with their parents.
- More than a third (34%) of the children had experienced the death of one or both parents – considerably more than found in recent studies of children in care.
- Most families are living in severe poverty – as a result of having the children. Fewer than a third (31%) of the families can provide all the eight basic items considered by most of the population to be necessities, like heating, cooked meals and winter clothes. For example, over a third of the carers (37%) cannot afford warm winter clothes and one in five cannot afford toys and sports equipment for the children. The government’s cuts to welfare benefits will make their lives even more difficult.
- The fact that most receive no financial allowance from Children’s Services for the children’s upkeep is a lottery. The willingness of these informal kinship carers to step up to take care of the children is allowing local authorities to view them as private arrangements, no matter how severe the maltreatment or other difficulties they are experiencing. The children’s family backgrounds are similar to those of children in the ‘looked after’ system.
- Many of the informal kinship carers (73%) have long-term health problems or disabilities and a third of their lives are restricted by pain. As many as two-thirds (67%) are clinically depressed.
- The informal kinship carers experience multiple losses: they have to change their life plans, lose their freedom – and, if young, the chance to train for a job. They lose friends, marriages come under pressure and they can become socially isolated.
- The informal kinship carers’ commitment to the children provides them with psychological security and stability. As a result the children are doing well; considerably better than children in care.
- Nonetheless, over a third (34%) of the children have severe behavioural and emotional difficulties as a result of their experiences of abuse and neglect when living with their parents.
- Even though the children’s backgrounds are similar to those of children in the care system, Children’s Services frequently refuse them help.
The report can be read here.
SOURCE: Family Law Week