Kinship care – where extended members of the family step in to help raise children in special circumstances – needs to be given urgent support, writes Andrew Gwynne MP who cares for his grandson Lyle
When my grandson Lyle was born in 2019, my wife Allison and I immediately fell in love with him.
Like all grandparents, we were looking forward to having him in our lives and watching him grow. Little did we know, he would become a bigger part of our lives than we ever imagined.
After circumstances that many people across the country would identify with, we soon became Lyle’s kinship carers.
Lyle is one of more than 180,000 children across the UK who are raised by kinship carers – grandparents, older brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, or even family friends, who step in to raise children who can’t stay at home.
Without kinship carers, children often become looked after in the care system by unrelated foster carers or are adopted.
There is huge variation in how local councils work with families and identify and assess potential kinship carers. Too often children end up in the care system when they could be living with relatives or family friends who they know, love and can forge lasting relationships with.
Often carers don’t have access to legal advice and representation and most are not eligible for legal aid like parents are. Children’s services will sometimes make a small contribution towards costs but never enough to cover the full amount of being properly represented.
Like many kinship carers, Allison and I had to go through the Family Court for a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) giving us parental responsibility so that we could make decisions about Lyle’s upbringing. To be considered for an SGO, you have to undertake hours of assessments, police and financial checks and medicals to ensure you are fully competent. It’s a very stressful experience, and can feel like an emotional rollercoaster.
Many carers get into substantial debt to secure the legal support they need. Charities like Family Rights Group provide free, independent advice to kinship carers to help them to understand the law and their rights and options. But kinship carers also need access to legal aid. Families shouldn’t have to navigate a complex legal system alone when they are seeking to provide a safe and loving home for children.
I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kinship Care and we campaign for kinship care to be the first thought – not an afterthought – when children can’t remain at home. The group is currently pressing the government to expand the scope of legal aid so that kinship carers are better supported.
At the age of 44, I didn’t plan for the return of sleepless nights and nappy-changing. Allison and I juggle our work responsibilities with childcare and have experienced first-hand the delicate balancing act many working kinship carers face on a daily basis.
As a society we’ve ensured paid adoption leave is available to help children settle in with adopters but there isn’t an equivalent for kinship care, and over half of kinship carers have to give up work or reduce their hours as a result. We urgently need to see paid employment leave for kinship carers rather than expecting families to simply adjust.
Becoming a kinship carer is amazing, but as a society we must recognise that it comes with a variety of emotional and financial pressures. We must commit to making sure there is appropriate support available to kinship carers and the children they raise.
Kinship Care Week (October 4 – 10) is an opportunity to raise awareness of and celebrate kinship care, as well as the unconditional love, support and protection kinship carers provide children.
Andrew Gwynne is the Labour MP for Denton and Reddish in Greater Manchester