Family carers in Falkirk provide an important service

Thousands of vulnerable children are cared for by relatives
Thousands of vulnerable children are cared for by relatives

They are Scotland’s forgotten lifeline, providing a stable home for our most vulnerable.

Kinship carers look after at least 10,000 children, many of them from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds.

They are family members, often grandparents, many too old for full-time work, who become primary carers because of parental neglect or bereavement.

It is estimated they save the government more than £176 million each year by keeping children out of foster and residential care.

But they do this with little financial support.

Now pressure is mounting on the Scottish Government to end the significant disparities that exist between foster carers, who are paid by local authorities, and kinship carers, who are not.

Angela became the full-time carer for her granddaughter Stephanie two years ago.

The 50-year-old from Falkirk stepped in after her eldest daughter, who lived with an abusive partner, voluntarily placed the four-year-old in foster care.

Angela, who lives with her partner and 14-year-old daughter, approached the local 
author­ity to request custody of Stephanie.

And, happily, the child was back staying with her family less than a week later.

Angela said: “I told them I wanted her at home, where she could be happiest.”

But Angela and her family have since struggled financially.

“I was made redundant last year and due to my childcare commitments finding a new job has been difficult,” she said.

“My husband works full-time, but it’s not enough. We’re living on dwindling savings.

“Child benefit does not cover it.”

Vivien Thomson, head of service at Falkirk Council, said: “We place a high value on the care relatives provide as kinship carers.

“Along with a weekly care allowance which can be paid by the local authority, kinship carers also receive a wide range of advice, assistance and training wherever necessary.

“A specialist post was created in 2010 to provide support and assistance for kinship carers. An individual care plan is agreed by every family and all those working with them to ensure the child receives the best possible care.”

In 2007, a motion in the Scottish Parliament was passed calling for an end to the discrimination between kinship and foster carers.

The Children and Young People Bill currently passing through Holyrood proposes to address some of the shortcomings in support, but one charity representing kinship carers says that without effective resources, real change is unlikely.

Martin Johnstone, secretary of The Poverty Truth Commission, said: “Some progress has been made over the past five years but it is not enough.

“We need to move from warm words to real action in order to ensure this group of children, and their carers, get the support they need and deserve.”

* Some names and ages in this article have been changed to protect individuals’ identities.