A few days ago I welcomed two women from the Dearne to Westminster.
They were among 50 ‘kinship’ carers who had come to talk to MPs – grandparents and other relatives who raise children who can no longer live with their parents.
As Julie, from Goldthorpe, and Karen, from Wath, told me, they just wanted to keep the children in the family.
They stepped in because they loved the child and wanted to do the right thing – but suddenly taking on a full-time caring role in your 50s or 60s can come at a high price.
Grandparents and family carers often don’t get the support that might automatically be there for foster carers or adoptive parents, and they don’t even get some of the support the benefits system provides for parents.
Sometimes they take on responsibility for the child at the same time as having to look after older relatives too. They’re suddenly being expected to work for longer because the Government is pushing back the state pension age quickly.
But according to leading charity Grandparents Plus, nearly half of grandparents and family carers end up giving up work when they take on the care of a child. It’s a big sacrifice: leaving a job you enjoy,
ating into life savings and risking your financial security. Karen told me she knows people who have lost their home and that the strain of caring for a child has caused marriages to break down.
I’ve been working with Karen for some months already. She’s set up a support group for ‘kinship’ carers, called Kinkids (www.kinkids.org.uk).
More and more we’re seeing children being looked after by grandparents and other family members. But there’s no organised recognition for this type of care. Often the children they’re looking after have additional needs. They might have experienced parental drug or alcohol misuse, domestic abuse, neglect or bereavement or have a disability or health condition. Karen says conditions like autism and attachment problems are common, and sadly many children get bullied at school.
But Grandparents Plus say that, despite this, children looked after by a relative often do better in life than those in care. They say up to 300,000 children are living with 200,000 grandparents.
Karen is 57 and she’s been bringing up her ten-year-old granddaughter Charley since she was three days old. She wants to see family carers given more support. So do I, and I’m making that argument strongly to ministers in Parliament.
I’d like to hear from grandparents and relatives in our area who have stepped in to care for children. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.