by Susan Hunter, Co-ordinator of the CAS Kinship Care project
NB This article appeared in the Herald newspaper on 18 March 2020.
So this is Kinship Care week. One time in the year when we should think of a group of people who are amongst the most vital – and perhaps the most overlooked – in the country.
‘Kinship Care’ is quite a cold, clinical term. But the people it describes are the opposite. They are people who look after children whose natural parents are unable to do so. But they are not foster carers or adoptive parents: Kinship Carers are relatives or family friends of these children, who have taken on their care so they don’t have to enter the institutionalised care network.
So, when a child’s natural parents are unable to look after him or her, and the grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins or friends step up, that’s a kinship carer. It’s possible you know some Kinship Carers. You may even be one yourself.
As the Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd, wrote in this newspaper on Monday, the number of children in Kinship Care families in Scotland has increased by 70% in the last ten years.
So why do Kinship Carers need a special week? Well, apart from the fact they should be celebrated, the reality of a kinship carer’s life is complicated. For a start they will have had to up-end their lives to some extent – often without any warning.
And then there’s the financial side. Think of what it costs to raise a child. Then imagine that you are doing so without having been able to prepare for it. Kinship Carers need and deserve support to enable them to provide for the children in their care as best they can.
That’s why the Citizens Advice network in Scotland runs a project to support kinship carers, and two years ago I took on the role of its National Co-ordinator. ‘This’ll be quite straightforward,’ I thought: I had worked in the voluntary sector for 12 years and thought I knew about Kinship Care. How wrong I was.
As a Granny I knew that the life of a Kinship Carer is not the life that I would choose. Much as I love my grandchildren, the idea of having full-time care of them is unimaginable. I quickly realised that most Kinship Carers do not choose the role but take it on out of a sense of love, loyalty and devotion for the child.
To ensure the wellbeing of the children being cared for, it is imperative that support is available from the moment they are welcomed into a Kinship Care family, with support agencies working towards allaying any hardships – for example in terms of the Kinship Carers having to give up their work, their homes, savings and the life they lived previously.
Last year our project put £769,000 into the pockets of kinship carers who came to us for advice. As a service we’re very proud of that – but it’s worth remembering that these people were fully entitled to that money, and the fact they needed our help to get it shows how important our service is.
Kinship Carers in my opinion are one of the most marginalised and undervalued sections of society. They take on an absolutely vital role, often in difficult situations both practically and emotionally. Consider what they save the taxpayer in financial terms, as well as of course the contribution they make to the wellbeing of the children they care for, and to society as a whole.
In Scotland we have a Government which views Kinship Care as a priority area, and all councils have efforts in place to help support carers in their community. But this varies from region to region, and across the Citizens Advice network we see too many cases where carers – like so many other people - are unable to make ends meet or are in need of additional support.
This includes those kinship families where approximately 15,000 children are classed as ‘Not Looked After.’ i.e. where there is no financial support from local authorities and in most cases, they exist under the radar of support agencies.
To celebrate Kinship Care week our plan was to run local events across Scotland, with all the different agencies being involved in promoting their services, and where the families could meet each other, experience something new and have some much-needed fun. Sadly, coronavirus has put paid to many of those events. But the spirit of our service remains the same and happily all the information carers need is still available by phone or on our website. Like all Citizens Advice services, our support is free, confidential and independent.
So I hope this week raises awareness of the selfless support provided to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable children by Kinship Carers. Spare them a thought for everything they do.
And carers themselves can get our support and information from our helpline on 0808 800 6000 or our websitewww.kinshipcarescotland.org.uk.