Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall and trustee of the Family Rights Group, has welcomed the call to the government to think again about the impact of its welfare reforms on family and friends carers.
“Vulnerable children are caught in a perfect storm at the present time. The number of children subject to care proceedings continues to rise. There is a shortage of 8,000 foster carers according to the Fostering Network. Numbers of children being placed for adoption are falling and the numbers of adopters coming forward has dropped.
“Where are these children going to be placed? The answer is with the unsung heroes of the care system – grandparents and family and friends carers.
“This research could not have come out at a better time. The government is assessing the impact of special guardianship orders (SGOs). The number of such orders is rising but many of those who are taking out the orders are doing so with little or no expert advice. Local authorities are putting the squeeze on carers to apply for them – and it is just these people who need tax credits who are going to be hit by a double whammy. Their local authority may cut their SGO allowances and the government aims to cut tax credits which kinship carers can claim. Vulnerable children are likely to be the victims!”
Key Findings of the Research
- University of Bristol study and a Family Rights Group (FRG) research report, combine to reveal the most comprehensive evidence to date on kinship children and their carers in England, and the difficulties they face;
- The University of Bristol study found that the majority (76%) of children in kinship care live in a deprived household, with 40% living in households located in the 20% of the poorest areas in England;
- The FRG research found that almost half (49%) of kinship carers have had to give up work permanently to care for the kinchild, and a further 18% had to give up work temporarily;
- The FRG research also found that 22% of kinship care households had 3 or more children aged 18 or under. 63% of these households currently receive child tax credit. 34% of these households receive housing benefit.
The University of Bristol, has today revealed a comprehensive study on the extent of kinship care in England. Kinship care is when children, who are unable to live with their parents, are brought up by relatives such as grandparents or older siblings.
The study analysed microdata from the latest 2011 census to map the number of children growing up in kinship care households. The study found that an estimated 152,910 (1.4%) of the 11.3 million children in England in 2011 were living in kinship care – a seven per cent growth from 2001.
The findings also shine a light on the difficulties facing many kinship carers and their children, with the majority being affected by poverty and deprivation. More than three quarters (76%) of kinship children live in deprived households and 40% live in households located in the 20% of the poorest areas in England.
To complement the University of Bristol’s new research, Family Rights Group, the leading national organisation on kinship care, today also released their own report, ‘Do the Right Thing‘, which highlights difficulties facing both kinship children and their carers in the UK. The study is based on information drawn from 6,250 callers to Family Rights Group advice line for the 2014-15 financial year, and from the new – and largest ever in the UK – kinship carer survey.
The study reveals, that only 33% of kinship carers in the survey are in paid full-time or part-time work. Almost half (49%) of the survey respondents had to give up work permanently as a result of taking on the care of children, and a further 18% had to give up work temporarily. This situation is particularly harsh for single kinship carers, with 52% giving up work permanently.
Worryingly, the research also showed that the vast majority (80%) of kinship carers felt that when they took on the child, they did not know enough about the legal options and the consequences for getting support to make an informed decision.
The report also draws attention to some of the potentially dangerous unintended consequences of limiting child tax credits and capping benefits. Of those surveyed, 57% of kinship care households were receiving child tax credit and 30% housing benefit. The rate was higher amongst those who had three or more children aged 18 or under in their household. 22% of kinship care households had three or more children aged 18 or under, 63% of these households currently receive child tax credit. 34% of these larger households receive housing benefit.
The proposed limit to child tax credit to two children will have a potentially disastrous impact on tens of thousands of kinship carers and their children. On top of plunging new kinship carers into severe poverty, the proposed limit could significantly deter some potential kinship carers from coming forward.
Some kinship carers already have their own children living with them. The proposed reduction in the benefit cap will mean some are forced into severe debt and have to move home, away from their own children’s school and support network.
What Needs to Change
- Kinship care is the first port of call for children unable to live with their parents – the government needs to introduce a new duty on local authorities to ensure potential kinship placements are are explored and assessed for suitability before a child becomes looked after, including through the offer of a family group conference (except in any emergencies).
- Recognise and meet the needs of children in kinship care – local authorities should recognise and meet the needs of children in kinship careby providing practical, emotional and financial support and the government needs to ensure there is funding to achieve this.
- Equal entitlement – children in kinship care should have access to the same right to support as those who are adopted, including access to the Adoption Support Fund for therapeutic help.
- Access to information and advice – the government should adequately fund free specialist independent legal advice and information services to kinship carers who are considering or have taken on a child.
- Support to remain in work – kinship carers should be supported to remain in the labour market, for example by the government introducing a right to paid leave so the children can settle in (akin to adoption leave) and the government should exempt kinship carers from the two children limit on child tax credits and the benefit cap.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said, “The two studies released today, combine to provide authoritative new data on the challenges facing kinship children and their carers. The number of children living in kinship care are increasing, and these children are overwhelmingly affected by poverty.
“By safely keeping the vast majority of children living in kinship care out of the care system (95%), kinship carers are saving the tax payer billions of pounds each year in care costs. As previous research has shown, these children despite suffering similar adversities to those entering the care system, are doing significantly better academically, and have fewer emotional and behavioural problems. The proposed reforms to child tax credit limits and the benefit cap jeopardise this.
“The tax credit and welfare reforms are potentially disastrous for kinship carer households and will deter many potential kinship carers from coming forward, resulting in more children ending up in the care system, at significant cost to the public purse. We call on the government to exempt kinship carers from these reforms, and to take action to ensure that kinship carers are not forced to give up work to raise the child.”
Nigel Priestley was recently shortlisted as Family Law partner of the Year 2015 and he is acknowledged as one of the leading legal experts in England on kinship care. He is a member of the Law Society’s Children Panel and regularly represents kinship carers.