There may be as many as 300,000 "kinship carers" in the UK
What financial help can you expect if you are caring informally for a close relative's child?
People who look after the children of close relatives usually get nothing to help them with the cost.
Local authorities often have no knowledge of them and their only financial help can be child benefit and tax credits.
But two London boroughs have been forced by the courts to pay hundreds of pounds a week to two people who care for the children of other family members.
If you care for a close relative's child, are you aware of your rights?
What is your experience - have you encountered financial difficulty?
Do you have any suggestions for others is a similar situation?
We asked for your comments, a selection of which are below. The debate is now closed.
MOST RECENT COMMENTS:
Four years ago our eldest granddaughter was sent to live with us by her mum, she remarried and there was conflict in the house amongst other things. Social Services in West Yorkshire would have nothing to do with the case. We have been trying for four years to get some money from her mum who still has parental responsibility. She will not pay. We tried the Child Support Agency but because the mum is not on benefits they will not make a claim against the household. So for four years we have struggled with just the child benefit and a small amount of child tax credit. My argument is she is still financially responsible for this child. The trouble is that we as grandparents could not see this child living in misery, but we have put a strain on our finances.
I have looked after my grandson for six years now. I don't get any help at all from Social Services. I moved from a one bedroom flat to a two bedroom house. I had to buy extra furniture: bed etc. He is now at high school and the cost of living is getting more expensive. Carpets and household things don't last forever. Endless kids come to see my grandson at our home. I never ever have nights out as I cant afford these luxuries. I have been in hospital three times for major surgery and have had to pay for him to be looked after. I love my grandson dearly, but sometimes life can be so hard. Constant worry about paying bills. I just feel like a forgotten family. When I got a Residence Order it was "Bye, bye and get on with it."
Sandra, loving grandmother, Leyland
I was abandoned by my partner of eight years and was left caring for his 12-year-old son. I have no financial help, only child benefit. My partner does not wish to have anything to do with his son and his mother is unable to care for him due to drug addiction.
We have two grandsons out of four brothers living with us on Residence Orders. The elder one has been with us since 12-months-old. He is now 13. The younger 10-year-old has been with us since age 3. We do have a small allowance paid monthly which stops at age 16. Both boys are special needs autistic and dyspraxia dyslexia. Neither parents have contact with them. The mother sent a 13-year-old birthday card and pen. I think this is the 3rd birthday card he has received from her. I have no address for her. We have no respite and no social worker or helper. We do not work as I am disabled and my husband took early retirement to help with the boys.
I know of a family who are undergoing assessments to look after their grandchild. They have several children of their own, some of them very young. They see this as a way of improving their financial situation and getting re-housed. They have very little affection for the child at all. It is heartbreaking.
I work for Family Rights Group. The vast majority of children being raised by relatives or friends are not being fostered by them. If they were, their carers would be entitled to receive a fostering allowance. Most of them are under a Residence Order, Special Guardianship Order, or as a result of a private family arrangement. The support provided by local authorities to these carers is discretionary, and very often that means they get little or nothing; it is effectively a postcode lottery, according to which area you live in. Family Rights Group has placed a petition on the Number 10 website, urging the government to pay an allowance to all family and friends carers, where there is judicial or professional evidence that the parents are unable to care for the child.
I watched with interest the news item reported upon on kinship carers by Paul Lewis, it however contradicts the only advice I have received from Social Services, that being that we need a residency order to pursue any claim. My wife and I have been raising our three grandchildren for four years due to our daughter's drug abuse, and the children have no contact with her. In February this year my wife suffered a stroke whilst undergoing surgery to repair an aneurism and has subsequently had to give up work. We are struggling to pay the mortgage and other bills and have informed Social Services of our predicament but was only given advice on obtaining a residency order, the cost of which could run into thousands. I do not know where else to turn. No government department seems interested and even the CAB gave me the same advice. I have now accepted a job doing night work so I am at home during the day but am worried about doing this as my wife has suffered two near fatal seizures.
Me and my husband took two of his grandchildren on as they are my step-grandchildren because his daughter put her drugs first. We were asked to do so by Social Services got a residency order for them before they moved in with us. My husband had a motorbike accident and fractured is back so he can't work. We also have three children of our own and only live in a three bed house and find it such a struggle. I don't get financial help from Social Services and consequently we are struggling. I love both the children and we are giving them a better life but should be given more help. It would cost them more to foster them, but they would not be with relatives. Social Services need to appreciate us all who look after their grandchildren and start to award us all with more help emotionally and financially.
Our 14-year-old granddaughter came to live with us last year under a residence order. We have received £30 per week child benefit/tax credit. We applied for, but were refused, residence order allowance. Our local MP, Adrian Sanders, has now managed to get us further funding amounting to £70 per week giving us £100 in all.
Jenny Webber, Torbay
Social Services agreed that I should look after my 15-year-old niece. Because she now has to travel for school, they paid me back three months train fare (I've not had any more since) but to get any of the money we've spent on setting her up a room, I'm having to apply to a charity (via Social Services), giving them full details of all my debts, income, outgoings, etc. If they give me any, it will be a one-off payment towards some of the cost. My child benefit claim (worth approx £12 a week) apparently takes a minimum of three months to process so I am now beyond my overdraft limit, incurring daily charges and still trying to put food on the table for three children. A friend of mine looks after a child (non-related) and receives money towards food, travel, bedding, school items, PlayStation, music lessons, etc. so that her other children don't miss out and so the looked after child is treated fairly.
Contact relevant organisations such as Grandparents Association who are very helpful and supportive in offering advice. Look up Munby Case/Manchester Ruling which states that no discrimination should be shown towards kinship carers (and more importantly the children they look after) by local authorities in respect of payments which are paid to local authority foster carers. Find yourself a good solicitor. This situation needs to be sorted out urgently by government for the sake of the children, as it is them who are suffering as a result.
Gillian Lawrence, Beckenham
I have a residence order for my grandson. I had to give up my jobs to look after him. My cousin, who fosters children, said "Didn't they ask you to foster him?" I said "No." She said, "Well you just saved them a fortune."
Our niece recently came to live with us after suffering at the home of her drug-addicted mother. We are more than happy to have her, but teenagers aren't cheap. We were shocked at the lack of support available to us, financial and otherwise; Social Services have been useless. We are struggling to get a residency order as her mother, while happy for us to take full responsibility for her daughter, will not legally "admit" that she has abandoned her; and what course of action can we take then? Nobody will help. It's so frustrating. Ultimately, it is the children who are let down - without residency, our niece's mother can take her back again whenever she likes.
Our granddaughter was placed with us by Social Services. After obtaining a Residence Order we receive an allowance from the local authority the child came from, but my main complaint is that it is means-tested each year, which involves completing a lengthy form and providing proof of expenditure. As we now get state pensions this is taken into account. Also child tax credit has been reduced because of the state pension - obviously the government expect this to be used to bring up grandchildren.
We have cared for our granddaughter for nine years since she was two. We love her very much and while we were both working, never thought about the cost. I have now lost my job and my husband still works but has had poor health and is self employed, so gets little help. We have never asked for assistance and have never actually done anything official about caring for our granddaughter.
We were asked to look after the tiny baby of a relative. Six years later he is still with us. I gave up my job to care for his many needs. He is the most wonderful child and we love him dearly. But we did not plan to have him and it has cost us thousands of pounds to raise him. He is likely to be dependent on us far longer than our other children due to his additional needs. Meanwhile his birth-mother continues to claim state benefits and have more children. She also continued to claim his child allowance for many months despite the fact that he never lived with her. When we asked for financial help Social Services just offered to put our little boy in foster care.
I am a 33-year-old mother and wife. Eighteen months ago I took my half-sister, who was 11 when her father took ill. My half-sister and I share the same mother who died 10 years ago. Since then my step father is better but doesn't want his daughter back. My husband and I are prepared to keep my half sister and bring her up but would really appreciate financial help. Her father is well off but refuses to give us regular financial help and the Social Services will give us nothing. I feel the system has its priorities all wrong. Kinship carers are taking in children whom would otherwise be the responsibility of the social services, costing money to place them in children's homes or foster homes, they would grow up without the benefits of being with loving relatives.
Tracy , Newcastle
I look after my two grandchildren under a special guardianship order. All we can claim is child benefit and child tax credits. All we got from the council is kinship carers' allowance for three months and a settling-in grant of £400. We get no other financial help from Social Services. We just have to get on with it but we have now got Social Services out of our lives.
M Taylor, Manchester
We are Grandparent Carers for our Grandchildren. You are made to feel very uncomfortable by the local authority if you ask for any financial assistance. You are made to feel that you should be doing it for the "love of it", which we obviously all are doing. But us grandparents are very realistic and we realise that at a time in our lives when we should be saving for our retirement, and our world is turned upside down, and we find ourselves parents all over again, we need some financial assistance. The grandchildren are already "disadvantaged children" why make them more so? We cannot afford to do all the trips, buy toys etc that children in Foster Care get. Why should ours be disadvantaged again, is it not enough that they are not living with their parents? I do not think that any local authority would let grandparents become foster parents, because that would mean that they would have to pay us out of their already stretched budget. We were all so told that it would leave the grandchildren in a very unstable situation, as the local authority would then remain the decision makers for the grandchildren and we would have to run everything by them first, as well as having constant local authority assessment to make sure that the grandchildren were ok. So in other words they could take the grandchildren away from us and place them with other Foster Carers. So while I agree we need to be financially helped somehow, making us foster carers is not necessarily the answer. We are not the same as foster carers as we want to do this to the end, and not on a temporary measure. I think an overall financial package has to come from the government, and something that is not means tested.
Grandparent carer, Bedfordshire
The Munby judgement was an excellent example of a curate's egg. Yes, kinship carers should be supported financially. No, unless they're prepared to train, they should not match fees paid to foster carers. Don't forget, all care workers must be qualified via NVQ processes whether it's child care or residential care for the elderly. Isn't "loving the child enough?" as many kinship carers seem to think? A resounding no, no, no. Without training, how do these usually worthy and selfless relatives begin to understand the impact "care", and the reasons for such a change, will have had? How does granddad modify his cuddles of a six-year-old granddaughter who's been groomed and sexually exploited by "Dad and his mates". Unless he gets faced with some realities and "How to" tactics, he's useless to the child and in a dangerous situation for himself. Such comments extend to the whole range of damages done to children. Never mind the answer, many don't even know there was a question. There is no uniformity of fees paid to foster carers in this country. Some Local Authorities still don't reward trained foster carers at all (which is how it was when I started in 1995) and others pay a joke amount. Kinship carers will remain, like foster carers, open to non-standardised levels of financial support that are another example of central government's policy of postcode lotteries rather than national and standard levels of fee.
Pete, Batley, West Yorks
We have had a grandchild with us for nine of his 11 years and after unwarranted intervention by Social Services, ended up in court on a contested case because he is the child of a long-term foster child of ours. We were eventually given a residence order. Apart from the massive legal bills (in excess on £30k) we went through all sorts of assessments, as did the child, over a two year period. We were promised a review of financial support in court but have received neither the review of needs, nor a penny in help. We are still paying off the legal bills largely incurred protecting a child against Social Services more than his parents. The real issue with finance is that Social Services are responsible for all the assessments, and also control the purse strings. Why would they help if they are not obliged to? Anyone looking after a child that is not their own should receive some sort of standard funding. The local authority should only be responsible for saying that you "validly" have the child and the funding should follow.
We are grandparents living in Scotland with our two grandchildren who have been in our care for the last 12 years. The law maybe different in Scotland but the handling of "kinship carers" by local authorities is not. Throughout the 12 years of caring for our grandchildren we have had to fight tooth and nail for any finance we have received from our local authority, even although our grandchildren were under a care order by the local authority and made a placement with us. Local authorities should not have the power to play with people's lives in this way and more importantly, the lives of vulnerable children whom they profess to have as one of their priorities. The whole system concerning vulnerable children throughout Britain needs to be overhauled from top to bottom and local authorities held accountable in law for their actions.
Four years ago I took on one of my friends' three children and eventually about 18 months ago was granted a residency order to keep them officially in my care - we went to court and got everything legal. Ever since I took these children on, I have been struggling financially and Social Services have done very little to help my situation. My home is falling apart because I gave up my job and my life to look after them and no matter how hard I try, Social Services just won't help me at all. I do need financial help big time.
Kathryn, Wallasey, Wirral
My wife and I have looked after our granddaughter since the age of six months; she is now 11-years old. This has been necessary because of drug abuse and subsequent mental illness by the mother. During that time we have asked for financial assistance on many occasions but have always been told that there is no such assistance available. We in no way resent looking after our granddaughter, indeed she is a pleasure and makes us extremely proud. However, I do feel very strongly about the lack of financial assistance available. Had we turned our back on her, then the Social Services would have had to provide foster care, presumably at significant cost.
Martin, Halifax, West Yorkshire
Three years ago I moved to Mablethorpe to start again, leaving my two older children behind as they were in relationships. One daughter had a little girl. Within three and a half months the little girl was placed with me by social services when my daughter who has ADHD couldn't look after her properly. Eighteen months ago social services placed with me another child at one day old. When she came I had to give up my job to look after her. I have residency orders through Lincoln county court for both children. Social services have been of no help. We are a happy family and are making the best of what we have, but we have found that we are having financial difficulties and know that these will get worse as the children get older. I try my best and always will.
I work with foster carers in a local authority in a very deprived area. Some of the kinship carers I work with are totally inspiring people who take good care of kids, others are not so inspiring and as there is a shortage of foster carers generally, if they look to be ok, the local authority is not in a position to be fussy in making a decision to put a child in their care. Foster carers generally are not valued and not paid enough. The social workers I work with who recruit, train and support carers are not valued and not paid enough. There aren't enough of them as they can't fill posts so foster carers and children end up with not enough attention and support. It is very difficult to recruit new foster carers. Kinship carers are the worst paid. In my opinion they should get what any Foster carer gets. Recently new standards have been introduced and pressure is being put on kinship carers to attend more training and compile evidence of meeting these standards. I support the requirement of attending training and meeting minimum standards but it is unrealistic and unfair to have such expectations when they are paid so little. No assumptions can be made about kids in care, they may be happy and well adjusted or they may have a range of complex needs. The people who care for them require all the same qualities as parents but more of them. It is not ok for a kinship carer to sit in denial of a child's problem because they can't be bothered to attend training (I see this happening a lot) - the local authority does need to hold them to account for the "job" they are doing - but it also needs to reward them. The task local authorities have of managing the care system is incredibly complex and difficult - they are under-funded and have been coping with a great deal of change, I can see how the proper payment of kinship carers gets put to the bottom of the list of priorities but it shouldn't be.
We were asked to care for our grandchildren in December 2007 by the local authority and given half an hour to make our minds up. We had to stay in a bed and breakfast that first night and Social Services were very reluctant to give us the expenses. We did receive the money six months later. We got no financial help for two months and now get child benefit and tax credit. Life is difficult but we love the children and will battle on.
Sue, Newton Abbot
My two grandchildren have been placed with me by Social services. It took me six years of fighting the tax credit system to get a tax credit payment for them. They thought because I got a residency order allowance that the care was the responsibility of the local government. I reclaimed a five figure sum. They gave me £100 compensation. How can that be compensation for the hardship they and my own two children went through for six long years? They didn't even have beds.
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