Cash for carers

Relatives or friends who have to take over the full-time,
permanent care of a child often suffer significant financial
hardship. We at the Family Rights Group argue that such carers
should be entitled to an allowance that reflects the cost of
care.1 This should not be a discretionary payment
administered by social services but a state benefit. It should be
either an “unsupported child” element of the child tax credit, or
an improved and expanded “guardian’s allowance”.

So what is family and friends care? Although there are many
children who share households with relatives and friends on a
temporary or permanent basis, the report focuses on the situation
of carers who have stepped in when a child cannot live with or be
cared for by a parent.

This may arise as a result of family breakdown, bereavement,
parental illness or child protection concerns. The Family Rights
Group’s Second Time Around study into grandparents who are
carers found that most carers would have had little or no
involvement with social services,2 even though the
reasons for the care arrangements are often similar to those of
looked-after children.

There are no national statistics for children living with family
and friends carers, but estimates suggest there could be as many as
300,000. The Fostering Network suggests that only a small number of
carers are approved as foster carers (6,900 on 31 March 2002),
although the number of children who are officially fostered by a
relative or friend has increased by more than a third since

Family and friends carers make huge commitments and sacrifices to
care for children. They also often experience difficulties in
gaining access to support services from statutory agencies. Unlike
foster carers who are assessed and trained before they take a
child, family and friends carers often take a child in an
emergency. The child may arrive with few belongings and may need to
move school with all the attendant additional financial costs.
Neither the benefits system nor the financial help available from
local authorities are sufficiently generous and flexible to meet
the short-term and long-term financial impact of caring for another
person’s child.

For instance, Second Time Around found that more than a
third of grandparents had given up work to care for their
grandchild and a further 7 per cent had reduced their working
hours. This led to immediate financial problems and contributed to
longer term problems as many carers were in the last years of their
working life and the loss of work severely affected their pension.
One carer said: “I’ve paid all my taxes. We’ve got nothing. Our
grandson gets punished – we need money to meet his needsÉI am
ignored. I am a fully paid up member of society but when we need
help we are told ‘on your bike’.”

Seven out of 10 grandparents said they had suffered financial
hardship as a consequence of caring for their grandchild.

So what financial support is available? Family and friends carers
are, at best, entitled to the same benefits as parents. Child
benefit, tax credits and income support are paid to the person
looking after the child. However, many carers have difficulty in
claiming these benefits, particularly where the parent is
continuing to claim child benefit. One carer said:”The benefits
system needs to change. I didn’t get a proper family allowance
because my daughter kept the book and wouldn’t give it back to me,
and they knew that. The social worker and everyone could confirm
that the child was with me – they even had a residence order but it
made no difference. Without the child benefit book you can’t get
income support. So that’s one area that’s bad.”

It can take several weeks to sign over a claim for child benefit,
which can cause severe hardship. There is also no recognition of
the costs that a new carer will incur, for example, clothing, toys,
furniture, and longer term costs such as housing, none of which the
carer will have planned for.

The only additional state benefit for family and friends carers is
the guardian’s allowance. This is only payable to carers where the
child is orphaned or one parent has died and the other is missing,
in prison or a mental health hospital.

Councils with social services responsibilities are the only other
providers of financial support. In practice, levels of financial
support are very varied, with most going to family and friends
carers who are approved foster carers. Some support goes to
residence order holders, although mostly in circumstances where the
child was previously looked after by the local authority.
Second Time Around found many carers have to fight for a
residence order allowance. One carer said: “The local social
services consider that they were not involved in his placement and
therefore have no responsibility towards him. This cannot be so
because the court was advised by a social worker.

“We used all our savings in childminding fees. Because we are not
on income support we weren’t allowed free school meals. We now
receive £60 per week for the three children from social
services, that is £20 each for each child, after fighting for
nearly 18 months with social services and involving our MP.”

Generally, very little or no financial support is available to most
residence order holders, those without a court order, and those who
are caring for children outside the looked-after children system.
Financial support is determined mostly by whether a child is or has
been looked after by the local authority and not by the needs of
the child or the carers.

There are very different views about the state’s responsibility for
supporting family and friends care. Some argue that families have a
duty to care for children and that relatives and friends should not
be entitled to more financial support than a parent. They argue
that funding relatives could even encourage such arrangements for
children who would otherwise live with their parents.

Others take the view that family and friends carers should be
entitled to support services and financial help at an equivalent
level to foster carers as the children would otherwise be in state
care and their needs are the same as the needs of children who are

These debates are played out on a daily basis as families and
practitioners grapple with decisions in an area where there is no
policy or guidance. This can lead to wide variations in
decision-making, a lack of clarity for families about their
entitlement to services, and (perhaps more worryingly) far-reaching
decisions that reflect the views of individual staff or the needs
of the local authority more than the needs of the child or

Funding Family and Friends Care concludes that research
strongly suggests that children cared for by relatives do at least
as well as children cared for by strangers. Family and friends
carers and the children they are caring for are entitled to far
greater clarity about the responsibilities of the state. Carers and
children have the right to support, guidance and financial
provision. If a child’s carers are struggling financially, this can
only have a damaging impact on the child’s development and

The green paper Every Child Matters is silent on family
and friends care, despite seeking detailed comments about foster
and residential care. But a properly supported family and friends
framework is one way of achieving the five key outcomes sought in
the green paper, and is an opportunity that should not be

The way forward   

The report makes the following recommendations: 

  • Family and friends care should be recognised and developed as a
    distinct care arrangement for children, with its own policy,
    guidance and regulation. The lack of such a framework means that
    children and their carers often fall through the net of financial
    and practical support. 
  • For children cared for under residence orders, the new special
    guardianship orders and informal arrangements, there should be an
    “unsupported child element” to the child tax credit. This should be
    broadly in line with New Zealand where “unsupported child
    allowance” is a state benefit. This should be administered by the
    Inland Revenue and entitlement validated by a child care
    professional in the absence of any court order. Alternatively, the
    existing guardians allowance should be increased and also made
    available for children whose parents are unable to care for
  • There needs to be far greater consistency in the use of
    residence order allowances, and in the payment of fostering
    allowances. There should be national guidelines and standardised
    criteria and levels of payment. 
  • Family and friends carers should also be entitled to a range of
    non-maintenance payments to help them meet the day-to-day costs of
    raising their young relatives. In particular, help is needed with
    “start up costs”, legal costs, school uniform and other educational

Alison Richards is legal adviser at the Family Rights Group and
is also assistant director of the child studies programme at King’s
College London. Robert Tapsfield is chief executive of the Family
Rights Group.  


1 A Richards and R
Tapsfield, Funding Family and Friends Care: The Way Forward,
Family Rights Group
, 2003, from 020 7923 2628 or go

2 A Richards , Second
Time Around: A Survey of Grandparents Raising their
, Family Rights Group, 2001

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