I have written more than once on this blog about the plight of children in care. Of course children are almost always taken into care for every good reasons – to remove them from corrosive environments, from neglect and abuse. But it is never a decision to be undertaken lightly. Judges work very hard to consider a child’s best interests whenever they rule on family cases.
Children removed into care may have escaped their damaged – and damaging – families . But however well run, local authority homes can never adequately replace the dedication of good parents. When children in care misbehave, as all children do, some find it all too easy to respond in a blundering, institutional way. As we recently noted, some call the police for even the most trivial of infractions.
Some children are adopted from care into new families. Lucky them. The current government is, it seems, is very keen to increase rates of adoption and included legislation to that effect in the recently published Children and Families Bill. I’m sure politicians really care about the welfare of children in care, and the fact that adoption and fostering is far cheaper than life in a care home is just a bonus.
But as Tony Blair might once have claimed, there is a third way. Not all children face that stark dichotomy of a life in care vs adoption. There is – at least for some – also the option of ‘kinship care’, that is to say, going to live with extended family members, such as grandparents, uncles or aunts.
Kinship care arrangements fall into two camps. Sometimes local authorities place children with relatives in a formal foster care arrangement, or perhaps as the first step towards full adoption. And sometimes kinship care is informal – the child simply moves in with the new carers, or ends up living with them by default.
According to a new study by young person’s charity Buttle UK, in conjunction with the University of Bristol, the most common reason for the beginning of such informal kinship care arrangements is, sadly, parental indifference (64 per cent of those surveyed). More than a quarter (26 per cent), meanwhile, had been actively rejected by their parents.
Startling as it may seem, more than a third of kinship carers are brothers or sisters. That little fact paints a vivid picture of the affected families!
Life, it seems, is tough for many informal kinship carers. Most, according to the study, live in severe poverty – precisely due to the presence of the children. More than two thirds of those surveyed cannot afford basic necessities like adequate heating or winter clothing.
The majority of kinship carers– a decisive 73 per cent – also suffer from significant health problems or are disabled. Sixty-seven per cent suffer from depression.
Unsurprisingly, many kinship carers have had to make major changes to the lives and plans in order to cope with the needy children on their doorstep.
The study, entitled The Poor Relations: Children and Informal Kinship Carers Speak Out, is said to be the most comprehensive look to date at informal kinship care.
Cases involving children are always the most difficult for family lawyers. Many of us have children of our own and hate to see innocent youngsters caught in the crossfire, entangled in broken families, damaged by the excesses of self-absorbed adults.
Kinship carers deserve our respect. Kinship care is a tremendous gift – for the incapable parents; for the children who get to grow up in a family to which they have some genuine connection; and it seems, for hard-pressed taxpayers too. According to the study, kinship care saves the government somewhere between £23,500 and £56,000 per child per year
I think that is worthy of a little gratitude.