A study published today reveals that more than one in three grandparents who have caring responsibilities for children are living below the poverty line. The organisation Grandparents Plus carried out the research based on interviews with 100 family and friends carers, the majority of whom are grandparents with responsibilities for safeguarding children.
According to the findings, 38 per cent of carers are on an income of less than £200 a week. The study also reveals that two-thirds of carers had not received any support from other services. Of those who had, three-quarters were dissatisfied with the services they received. One in five carers also stated that they currently receive no benefits or allowances.
“We can now see very clearly the intolerable stress and poverty that grandparents who step in to bring up their grandchildren face every day of their lives,” said Grandparents Plus chief executive Sam Smethers.
“If the children they care for were in foster care they would each cost the taxpayer £40,000 per year. A small amount of support for family and friends carers would be cost-effective, keeping children out of the care system.”
We live in a society that increasingly relies on grandparents to take on childcare responsibilities, but often we don’t consider the resources they might need to care for and safeguard the children in their care. Some grandparents may feel pressured into accepting caring responsibilities they feel ill-equipped to manage and this can have implications for safeguarding and child protection.
Some grandparents may be vulnerable adults themselves. It is not unusual to hear of children being left with a grandparent who has dementia or who is physically unable to cope with small, energetic children. The poverty experienced by some older people is well documented, and cases of self-neglect caused by having to live on very little money still too common. Having to share these sparse resources with a child or a number of children could in some instances lead to unintentional neglect of either a child or vulnerable adult.
It is often the case that where a child or children is subject to a child protection plan the grandparents are brought in to provide the support the parents need to keep the child safe within the family home. Responsible grandparents are often a highly protective factor for children living in vulnerable families where there are high risk issues such as alcohol and substance misuse, domestic abuse and mental health. Children will often go to grandparents for refuge from very difficult family circumstances and grandparents in turn need to be supported in safeguarding them.
We all know that the majority of grandparents enjoy looking after their grandchildren but we take this goodwill labour for granted at our peril. Safeguarding children and vulnerable adults involves providing support and resources to children and families to help them in what can sometimes be very challenging work. We celebrate grandparents and the extra love and help they bring to the job of raising children.
As a result of the findings, Grandparents Plus is joining forces with Family Rights Group, The Grandparents’ Association and other members of the Kinship Care Alliance to lobby Parliament this Wednesday. The lobby group will call for greater recognition, respect and reward for family and friends carers.
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