The House of Commons Library has recently published a briefing paper setting out the various types of financial support that may be available to kinship carers in England.
The paper provides a helpful overview of this complex area of family law, but what exactly are kinship carers, and why is the issue of financial support such an important and tricky issue?
Kinship carers are those who are looking after the children of friends or family members because the child’s parents are unable to care for them. This may be for a variety of reasons, including addiction or mental health problems. In many cases the local authority are involved with the family as a result of such concerns.
The types of kinship carers are as diverse as families themselves, with uncles, aunts, older siblings, god-parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents taking on the role. Such carers often have a challenging time ahead of them, as they must re-arrange their own family life around the child they are now caring for. In many cases that child has experienced trauma and suffering which means they have special needs and require special therapeutic parenting from the carer.
In most cases the kinship carers themselves are young and of working age. Grandparents may be taking on care of their very young grandchildren while they are still in their forties. They may have to give up work or reduce their hours to care for the child, or they may need bigger and more expensive accommodation. In such cases financial assistance is vital to the success of the placement. But is it always available?
Unfortunately the answer is not straightforward, as it depends on the legal status of the placement. If the child is in local authority care then it is possible for a friend or family member to be recognised as a foster carer and receive a foster care allowance. This is calculated on the basis of the age of the child and is paid weekly, subject to a statutory minimum. If a child is placed with a family member under a Special Guardianship Order then the local authority can and should provide some financial support to their carer, however this will vary depending on the child’s needs and on the special guardian’s own financial situation. The local authority should prepare a detailed support plan outlining the financial assistance they will provide to the guardian, and this should be looked at very carefully by the court and the carers before any Special Guardianship Order is made.
In contrast, if a child lives with a friend or family member under a Child Arrangements Order, or under an informal agreement with their parent, then there is no automatic right to financial assistance from the local authority. Such carers may be entitled to benefits such as child tax credit, child benefits, Universal Credit or Housing Benefit, which can be a minefield in its own right.
The role of a kinship carer is therefore not an easy or a straightforward one. However, they are highly valued by the courts and by local authorities as they provide a precious opportunity for children to remain in the care of a family member or close friend instead of entering the care system or being placed for adoption. Financial support is available, but the carer must know where to look and understand what they may and may not be entitled to.