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COVID-19 plunges kinship families into financial hardship

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting immense pressure on already vulnerable kinship care families, the Family Rights Group has warned.

Many kinship carers are older and are more likely to be suffering from chronic health conditions or special needs than the wider population, while the children they are caring for have often suffered tragedy or trauma.

Catherine McKinnell MP, Member of Parliament for Newcastle North and Chair of the Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care, said: “Many kinship care families were already facing difficulties before this crisis, and our research shows that the pandemic has made it worse for the most vulnerable. The government has put some welcome measures in place to support some families, but many kinship carers are not eligible and we think ministers need to go further.”

There are around 200,000 children in the UK who are not living with their parents but are being raised by relatives, such as grandparents, or friends, known as kinship carers. Many kinship carers have to give up work to care for the kinship children, so they are more likely to be poorer and already in, or at greater risk of, isolation than the wider population.

A new survey of more than 650 kinship carers across the UK raising over 1000 kinship children, has revealed many are struggling to deal with the additional hardship caused by the crisis and need extra support.

The survey revealed:
- Half of kinship carers surveyed are self-isolating because they, the child or someone in their household has an underlying health condition.

- More than a quarter of kinship carers surveyed have a limiting long-term illness and 54% of the kinship children have additional educational needs or disabilities.

- A quarter of kinship carers reported they faced financial hardship that had worsened as a result of the current crisis.

- The greatest concern for kinship carers is the impact of the lockdown on the child’s mental health, development and behaviour. Their other main worries are what would happen to the child if they became ill with the virus, and concerns about managing financially.

- Half of the kinship carers had received no support during this crisis. Many said they would have liked guidance about what help is available.

- 37% of kinship carers surveyed had been offered a school or childcare place. Most had not taken up the offer, with many being required to shield and citing worries that by sending their child to school, they would risk bringing the virus home.

- However, almost one in five kinship carers said they had not been offered a place but would appreciate one.

- A quarter of kinship carers recommended steps be taken to make it easier with shopping for food and medicines.

The Parliamentary Taskforce on Kinship Care – a cross party group of MPs and Peers working to improve support for kinship carers – has now written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to highlight the findings and ask government to support these families.

They are urging a local Kinship Care Crisis Fund for local authorities to respond to the needs of all kinship families in their locality. Supermarkets should prioritise deliveries for kinship carers and anyone parenting disabled children, the taskforce adds.

Financial measures should be put in place including lifting the bedroom tax and benefit cap when a kinship care household is having to self-isolate.

Children in kinship care should be offered the option of their child being placed in childcare or school during lockdown measures and the government should offer laptops or tablets and broadband currently available to support home learning for children in care or who have a social worker to be extended to children in kinship care.

Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group said: “Many of the responses to the kinship care survey were heart-breaking. Family and friends, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, brother and sisters are doing their best by the kinship children, in extremely adverse circumstances. Many of the kinship carers have been plunged into poverty, having to give up work or reduce their hours in order to take on the children. But the crisis has caused even greater financial hardship as shopping and utility bills rise and, in many cases, household income has fallen further. Some of the kinship carers describe being left abandoned with their worries, including fears of what should happen to the child if they fell ill.

“The recommendations set out in the report are straightforward actions that the government could take now to help relieve some of the significant stress on kinship care household.

“Kinship carers are there for the children. Now the government needs to be there for them,” concluded Cathy Ashley.

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