Grandparents are family too

The best place for children is with their families, but what
exactly are families? They are not tidy units of two parents and
two children. They are complex networks of relationships embracing
grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-grandparents, cousins, godparents
and family friends.

How many of us depend on grandparents for help with children? Just
stand outside any primary school and you will see grandparents
dropping off or collecting their grandchildren. Today, eight in 10
grandchildren receive some care from their grandparents compared
with three in 10 in the 1970s. Nearly five million grandparents
spend the equivalent of three days a week caring for their

But grandparents and the extended family are largely invisible in
political, social and economic policies. Sixty years ago Attlee’s
Labour government set about developing the welfare state around the
idea of the nuclear family. Every government’s family policy since
then has been built on that.

This matters especially for children in care, where kinship care is
seen as second best. We know that many children at risk are placed
with foster carers or put up for adoption rather than supported
within their extended families. Why? Because there are too few
staff to do assessments.

And when grandparents are allowed to look after their grandchildren
they are just left to get on with it. These grandparents are
isolated and receive minimal support in helping them bring up
children who may have severe behavioural and emotional needs. Many
live in poverty having had to give up paid work to care or will be
living on state pensions. They struggle to buy the basics of food,
shoes and clothes for their growing grandchildren. These families
should have a right to assessment of their needs and the financial
support necessary to enable them to carry out this vital caring
role. And the whole family should receive support to help them

The government presents its policies on family, children and child
care, and on ageing and long-term care as though these generations
live entirely separate lives. It is surely time to value, support
and strengthen family ties across the generations.

Diana Whitworth is co-director of Grandparents

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