Veteran Labour MP Alan Johnson has called on the government to consider the plight of ‘sibling carers’ – young people who look after brothers and sisters after their parents leave, die or become incapable of caring for their children.
Speaking at a fundraising event for charity the Family Rights Group, Mr Johnson said many sibling carers lived in poverty and often have little access to formal support or counselling. Most are left looking after younger brothers or sisters after a parent dies, is imprisoned, or falls victim to substance abuse.
More children could be looked after by older brothers or sisters rather than going into care if proper support were available, the former Home Secretary added.
“Today only around five per ent of the 45,000 children who are being brought up by their older brothers and sisters are entitled to support because they are officially in care and their sibling carers are paid as foster carers. For the remaining 95 per cent it is a matter of chance whether they and their carers get any help from their local authority. The truth is that this is an issue which has been overlooked for decades, by governments of all political complexions. But it’s more pressing now as numbers of children in the care system have risen. Sadly, Family Rights Group’s research showed that sibling carers are often at the bottom of the pile when it comes to being able to access help, particularly with housing.”
“Sibling care can be extraordinarily successful. There is plenty of evidence that children raised by their relatives do better than those in unrelated care, despite having suffered similar earlier tragedies and trauma. I know that from my own life. My sister Linda did so much for me. Without her we would have been separated and placed in care and our futures would have turned out very differently. Nevertheless without access to the right help we are inflicting wholly unnecessary damage on some of these children’s chances of a successful upbringing.”
Johnson was raised by his elder sister after being orphaned in 1962, at the age of 12. He held various ministerial posts during the Blair and Brown governments.