Guardian Letters: Family carers must get financial support

Mike Stein says kinship carers provide a strong family and cultural identity; Nina Lopez, Micheleine Kane and Kim Sparrow say mothers must be supported so that their children can stay with them; a kinship carer who wishes to remain anonymous has nothing but praise for his social services team; Stan Labovitch says the two-parent family is still the bedrock of society

Letters  Sunday 10 December 2017 18.50

• Louise Tickle importantly identifies the legal barriers to kinship carers receiving financial support (Family carers need our help, 8 December). The statistics are stark. In 2017 only 6,310 (3.5%) of the 180,000 children in kinship care were legally entitled to financial and professional support. It is also of note that in England only 9% of “looked after” children are placed with kinship carers compared to just under half in Spain, and there is also the injustice of opportunity arising from great variations between English local authorities.

Research shows that kinship carers provide a strong family and cultural identity, the child not seeing themselves as “in care”, and they stick with them through troubled times, even when lacking financial, practical and personal support. This evidence clearly suggests the urgent need for all kinship carers to receive legal recognition and resources as part of a continuum of preventative and care services for vulnerable children and their families.

Professor Mike Stein

• Finally, a call for financial support for kinship carers. We’ve campaigned for years to end the discrimination that pays strangers for foster care but not grandparents who often have to fight to stop children being adopted. But what about supporting mothers so children can stay with them? Women, 80% of whom are mothers, suffer 86% of austerity cuts, including benefit sanctions which drive thousands to food banks; 56% of single parents (overwhelmingly mothers) with jobs live in poverty; single-mother families are 47% of the statutory homeless and nearly three-quarters of families affected by the benefit cap.

Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act instructs local authorities to “promote the upbringing of children by their families” by “providing accommodation and giving assistance in kind or in cash”. The Care Act 2014 entitles disabled mothers to extra help. Why are these entitlements rarely implemented? The 40% cut in “early intervention” highlighted by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is not the only reason. An ideology of blaming mothers even for the domestic violence they suffer, devaluing the child-mother relationship regardless of its impact on children, promoting forced adoptions and privatisation of children services, has resulted in nearly 90,000 children in care (England and Scotland). In some working-class areas, 50% of children are being referred to social services.

In 2016, ruling against a forced adoption, the European court of human rights said that article 8 (respect for private and family life) placed the state under a “positive obligation” to keep families together. It blamed “public and private services provided by ‘saviours’” for “child maltreatment and discrimination”. Mothers and kinship carers picket London’s family court every month demanding to be reunited with their children. They ask: when will they get the support they are legally entitled to?

Nina Lopez Support not Separation
Micheleine Kane Scottish Kinship Care Alliance
Kim Sparrow Single Mothers’ Self-Defence

• I felt heartened by Louise Tickle’s piece it because it highlighted the situation for some children and their carers. My wife and I are special guardians to our grandson, who is seven. He first came to us at Christmas 2010 at six months old after being in care for five months. At the age of five weeks he had suffered serious physical abuse by his father. One of his injuries was almost impossible to imagine, having one leg twisted until it snapped.

While many are quick to attack social services, I have nothing but praise for the local social services. They were helpful in any way they could be to us and were supportive throughout the process of obtaining special guardianship and after. While acting as a kinship carer for two other toddlers beforehand, I discovered that not all social services teams are as forthcoming.

Naturally, being a de facto new parent in advancing years is hard, but I can honestly say that it has been the most rewarding time of my life.

I agree that more should be done to enhance the status of kinship carer and special guardians, who do what they do not because of financial assistance – or assistance in any form, because in some cases there is none – but because they are good people trying to do what is right for the child.

Again, thank you, Ms Tickle, and I really do mean it.

Name and address supplied

• I agree with Louise Tickle that as an alternative to adoption, the relatives of vulnerable children should be offered funding and practical help if they can provide a home for them.

The fact remains, however, that the two-parent family is still the bedrock of society and its most cost-effective system of social care. In the long term, where possible, parents should be encouraged to stay together for the sake of their children.

Stan Labovitch
Windsor, Berkshire

Click here to read the origional Guardian article.

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