Lack of support for grandparents who look after their
grandchildren as carers has been highlighted in research by Labour
MP Frank Field.(1)
He found that many grandparents who performed a caring role were
doing so because the parents were unable to cope, whether due to
substance misuse or relationship problems.
Jean Stogdon, chair of charity Grandparents Plus, believes there
are “several hundred thousand” grandparent carers but says there is
no official figure as the question is not asked in the census as it
is in the US.
This form of kinship care saves the taxpayer tens of millions of
pounds, but the government is accused of doing too little to
encourage and support it.
Professionals say the financial support available to
grandparents can depend on luck and where you live.
The commonest form of support is the residence order allowance,
worth about £60 a week, but which is at the discretion of
councils and lasts until the child is 16. Grandparents must apply
for it at a residence order court hearing.
Another option is to become a foster parent. But some
grandparents are reluctant to go down this route, despite
allowances of up to £200 a week, because it requires social
services to start care proceedings.
“Those who become foster carers get much better support,” says
Robert Tapsfield, director of charity the Fostering Network. “Which
route you go down depends more on luck than need. If a child is
subject to court proceedings and fostered with relatives they are
entitled to financial support, but if grandparents step in before
that they often get nothing.”
Some grandparents are starting to use the system to their
advantage, says Stogdon. “What grandparents are sussing out is if
they leave a situation until it becomes a crisis they will get more
money – if they wait until the child is placed with them they will
get better support.”
There are other forms of financial support available: pensioners
can apply for child tax credits and child benefit, working
grandparent carers are eligible for working tax credits, and income
support and council and housing benefits can also be claimed. On
top of this, social services can provide the over-60s with a
£1,000 community care grant in times of exceptional
However, many grandparents still claim nothing, putting extra
pressure on them, says Linda Nunn, advice line manager at
grandparents charity the Grandparents’ Association.
“Many struggle because their only income is a pension,” she
says. “A number of people have said they have been forced to go
back to work because they can’t get the allowances they need.
Others won’t take on a child because they can’t afford it.”
The government says offering financial support to kinship carers
is interfering too much in family life. But Bob Broad, professor of
children and families research at De Montfort University, accuses
ministers of using this as an excuse to “exploit” grandparents.
“Grandparents do it despite not getting enough support,” he
says. “They do it because of the emotional bond which the
authorities tend to exploit. There is no commitment from the
Broad says studies show that children looked after in kinship
care do as well, if not better, than children taken into formal
care settings, and he believes the government should change the
system so that financial support is tied to the child’s needs
rather than who cares for them.
Nunn says: “If the government put more money in, more people
would be prepared to offer kinship care and there would be fewer
children in state foster care.”
- Britain’s Pensioner Parents: The Quandary of Parenting your
Grandchildren, Frank Field, June 2005.