Campaigning for the rights of Grandparent carers and all Kinship carers in the U.K.
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Britain’s Pensioner Parents:
The quandary of parenting your grandchildren
Highlights from A Report from the office of the Rt. Hon Frank Field MP
Tel: 020 7219 6636
In late 2003, Frank Field MP received visits to his regular Birkenhead surgery
from grandparents who were raising their grandchildren. It became clear that
this family arrangement was not a freak occurrence, and that many
grandparents, both in the Wirral and nationally, raise their grandchildren. He
contacted Anita Starkey, of the Lighthouse Self-help Centre, a body which
provided help and advice to grandparents in such a situation.
A meeting was organised in January 2004 by the Lighthouse Self help Centre
between twenty sets of grandparents who were raising grandchildren. The
issues raised at this meeting focused on the way that grandparents were
treated by social services, and the general lack of information surrounding the
rights of grandparents. All of the grandparents at the meeting were very
critical of the lack of help they had received.
Following the meeting the twenty grandparents who attended were asked to
take part in a survey to try and find out how grandparents raise their
grandchildren, and the kind of impact this had on their health and finances. It
was hoped that it would be possible to get a better idea of the effect that
looking after grandchildren had on their health and finances
This is extracts from the report
Introduction by Rt. Hon. Frank Field MP
The role of grandparents is being transformed, not for the first time in living
memory. Older constituents recall for me the classic working class community
where children lived at home until they married and, if they were lucky, moved
to a house in the same road or into a street nearby. Grandparents then often
acted as the hub of a social wheel where their own lives and those of their
children and grandchildren interconnected often many times in the same day.
Since I began representing Birkenhead in 1979 I have witnessed significant
changes affecting the role of grandparents. Some grandparents still bask in
the traditional status that the old working class life apportioned them. The role
of others would now be unrecognisable to those grandparents who have gone
. No grandparent
in the survey reported that they have been helped adequately or even
offered adequate advice. Grandparents detail that the sums of money
paid to them vary considerably and none of them believe that what
appears to them as arbitrary allowances are either satisfactory to
themselves or to taxpayers. Lack of adequate financial support leads to
considerable hardship with some grandparents forced to extend their
working lives while others have been forced into debt. A unanimous
recommendation was for a universal non means-tested allowance for
people in their position.
question whether the different legal positions in which grandparents
find themselves best reflect the needs of the children for whom they
Grandparents find that the many differences in status of being a foster
parent, guardian or holding a residence order, confusing and in some
cases irrational. Each of the grandparents believes that a new
government initiative for grandparents in their position is long overdue
and that such an initiative should be focused on properly meeting the
needs of their grandchildren, and that their legal status should reflect
not determine their financial needs.
suggest that the local authority should be required to keep an up-todate
register of all grandparents who act as parents to their
Grandparents believe this is a first essential move at local level to
ensure that all grandparents in their position begin to receive minimum
support to help them carry out their functions as ‘parents’. They believe
local authorities should be required to help them gain the maximum
financial help that exists. They also equally believe that the local
authority ought to be skilled enough to provide them with legal
information as to which legal status would most benefit their
Many grandparents are, in effect, foster parents for those
grandchildren with troubled or absent mothers and fathers. Yet
they receive little or no financial assistance from local authorities
or social services.
In a survey carried out on grandparents in Birkenhead who look after
their children the median increase in weekly income for grandparents
was £30 for each grandchildren looked after. The highest increase in
weekly income for grandparents who look after their grandchildren was
£48 per grandchild. Three sets of grandparents had not seen their
income increase at all as a result of bringing up their grandchildren.
Wirral Local Authority has experienced difficulties surrounding
the recording of numbers of grandparents who look after their
grandchildren. Overall local authorities need to be more proactive
when responding to requests for support, assistance, or advice by
Some of the more common reasons for grandparents looking after their
grandchildren are as a result of a drink or scam addiction of one or
more of the parents. In some cases the child is unwanted while in other
cases the child has been abused.
Most grandparents use their own initiative when deciding to look
after their grandchildren. Many don’t know what their rights are
vis-à-vis their grandchildren and those who do have a tough job
finding out for themselves what their rights are.
Grandparents struggle most with the physical side of looking after their
grandchildren while almost all the grandparents said in the survey that
they struggled financially.
Unless a grandparent is on income support, or on very low
income, they are unlikely to get any help with legal costs when
applying for a Residence Order, which can be expensive – two or
three thousand pounds.
The Birkenhead grandparents in this survey have a very low opinion of
social services, and the level of support they have been offered. Many
of the grandparents felt that they had not received enough financial
support or advice on how to get it.
of Wirral Social Services askingfor information regarding grandparents caring for their grandchildren across
the whole of the Wirral. The letter asked: (i) how many grandparents were
acting as parents in the Wirral; (ii) of these how many did social services have
contact with; and (iii) what steps social services were taking to ensure that
grandparents received the financial help and advice to which they are
The report that follows is based on information resulting from correspondence
with the Wirral Social Services and the grandparents who responded to the
Introduction - Why are Grandparents looking after their grandchildren?
Wirral Social Services currently know of 77 sets of grandparents acting as
parents in Wirral. This number is only an approximation as this information is
not recorded separately on the local authority database but is maintained on
children’s individual case files. This information is not routinely collected as
there is no legislative requirement for grandparents who look after their
grandchildren to register this fact with the local authority, or for the local
authority to compile a register. Finally, the local authority are not required
generally to undertake statutory checks or make support or safeguarding
arrangements for grandchildren looked after by grandparents or, indeed, to
collect information on them.
There are many reasons why grandparents are increasingly finding
themselves parenting for a second time. The break up of the family unit, either
through the death of a parent or separation is one such reason. Sometimes
the parent is hooked on drink or scam and the child’s welfare suffers as a
result. Alcohol and other scam prevent the user from exercising judgement
and can make them violent or neglectful. Their ability to care effectively for a
child is therefore jeopardised.
Another common reason for grandchildren living with their grandparents is
due to the child being abused by their parents. Sometimes parents are utterly
incapable of providing effective parenting and so the onus falls on
grandparents instead. This is aggravated by the collapse in standards of
parenting in recent times. Social changes have altered the structure of
Britain’s families and, in some instances, these changes have resulted in a
collapse of civilised behaviour. Parents are, in addition, increasingly shedding
their responsibilities as parents and relying on grandparents to bring up their
The most miserable and unfortunate of circumstances can lead to
grandparents looking after grandchildren. To take one example from one
‘ My son was murdered in his own flat some three years ago.
He was just 31 years old…I have four remaining children. My
youngest daughter took to heroin. She had three children these
are the children who live with the paternal grandparents and
I am 55 years old sir and not in the best of health. I have
worried where all (my grandson’s) things are going to come
from for Christmas etc., as all I receive is income support and
child benefit for him. All very well but I was not allowed to
grieve for my son, I am not allowed to grow old gracefully. I
have brought my five children up and gave my youth doing so.
I was looking forward to old age and to be able to do the things
that I want to do. But no such luck.’
The conclusion of this report is that many grandparents who look after their grandchildren are not receiving either the financial support or the help from local authorities which they deserve.
The financial worries and physical exhaustion that grandparents who look after their grandchildren experience means that for many it is impossible for them to enjoy their retirement.
This issue needs to be addressed rapidly, especially in light of the Government’s unveiling of its strategy for meeting the challenges of ageing in the 21stcentury.1
Research conducted in 1998 using data from the British Social Attitudes
Survey shows that society respects and acknowledges the importance of
grandparents. It is now important that this public acknowledgment is
converted into an active Government policy which seeks to reward
grandparents who look after their grandchildren.
In order to ensure that all children, regardless of who is looking after them, get
a decent and respectable start in life the Government needs to address this
issue. Age Concern has stated that grandparents should be able to exercise
choice about the contribution they make to the upbringing of grandchildren.
Furthermore grandparents should have the right to be heard and their views
considered by public authorities who make decisions which will affect them.
The main recommendation of this report is that the Government should now
set in hand a national survey on the extent to which grandparents play the role of parents to their grandchildren, the level of financial and other help they
need to carry out their responsibilities and the role that the new children’s
centres should play in ensuring that more effective support is given.
According to the grandparents support group, Grandparents Plus, the UK has
approximately 13 million grandparents.3 If the 1 per cent referred to by Bob Broad is accurate it means that 130,000 grandparents in the UK are currently raising their grandchildren.
The advantages for children who are looked after by relatives, rather than by
foster parents, are clear and have been outlined in studies of ‘kinship care’ –
i.e. being looked after by relatives or friends with the knowledge of social
services. In particular, in-depth interviews were carried out with young people
who were looked after by their relatives by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
in December 2001 in the London Borough of Wandsworth.
The advantages of kinship care to the grandchild were - stability; avoiding
local authority care and being looked after by strangers; feeling safe from
adults; maintaining links with family, siblings and friends; sustaining racial and
cultural heritage; and getting support with education. Three disadvantages to
grandparents were highlighted: limitations to freedom; financial hardship; and
the inability to access care leaver’s services.4
2 B. Broad (ed.) Kinship Care: the placement of choice for children and young people, Russell House
3 http://www.grandparentsplus.org.uk/info … stics.html accessed 11th March 2005
In part the financial hardship that accompanies the decision of a grandparent
to raise their grandchild arises from the different ways in which that decision is
Grandparents can apply for a Residence Order if a grandchild has been living
with them for three years or more. Otherwise grandparents must obtain the
permission of the court before they can apply. The survey of grandparents in
Birkenhead showed that court costs are unlikely to be offset by the local
authority or social services. Such costs are likely to be in the region of two or
three thousand pounds. Filling in the court application can be stressful and
Residence Orders can be made for a specific period, but will not continue
beyond a child’s sixteenth birthday. The court also has power to discharge the
Order in separate proceedings where an application for discharge is made.
Parents can, in other words keep going back to the court to ask for the
Residence Order to be discharged. This lack of security makes any long term
planning of the child’s future particularly difficult and is one of the draw backs
of Residence Orders. Another disadvantage is the fact that the Residence
Order gives no powers to grandparents to appoint a guardian for the
grandchild in the event of the death of the grandparent or grandparents.
Perhaps the largest issue of contention relating to Residence Orders is the
financial assistance that grandparents with them receive. Grandparents with
whom a child is living as a result of an order may be entitled to an allowance –
the Residence Order allowance, under paragraph 15, schedule 1 of the
Children Act 1989. However a local authority social services department can
use its own discretion when deciding whether to provide such an allowance.
The Grandparent’s Association have set out in a fact sheet some of the pitfalls
‘If you have been receiving payments from a local authority
because you are a foster carer for your grandchild, you will
lose these payments if you are successful in gaining a
Residence Order. You will need to weigh up the financial loss
against the additional security that you and your grandchild will
experience from the stability afforded by a Residence Order.
Local social service authorities have power to pay allowances
to the holders of Residence Orders. Many local authorities
have told us that they pay allowances to grandparents who
were formerly foster carers, or whose care of their
grandchildren prevented the children from being looked after
by the authority. Unfortunately, whether or not these
allowances are paid is at the discretion of the local authority
and the amounts that are paid vary. Any amounts paid are
unlikely to be as much as you received as a foster carer.’9
In the Wirral the average rate of payment received by grandparents who
receive Residence Order payments is £50 per week. This is less than half the amount of the minimum weekly allowance for foster children recommended by the Fostering Network outside of London.10 Wirral Social Services have, in a
welcome move, recently revised their approach to Residence Order payments
to try and tackle this particular pitfall. The details of these changes are laid out
in the following section of this report.
Findings for Wirral’s Grandparents
Grandparents who are known to Wirral’s Social Services Department and who
experience financial concerns are advised to seek specialist benefit advice
from the Citizens Advice Bureaux or the Council’s Benefits Advice Team. Both
organisations offer high quality services. While grandparents may be eligible
for means-tested benefits their financial circumstances are often complicated
and establishing eligibility is difficult. Grandparents who have saved during
their working lives are likely to find that their savings can make them ineligible
for means-tested benefits, even though they have considerably increased
costs and are saving local authorities the costs involved with taking the child
One common issue faced by grandparents in the Wirral is that the child’s
parents frequently retain the Child Benefit book which acts as a passport to
other benefits for the child. Under these circumstances the grandparent can
claim no financial benefits for their grandchild. Grandparents often do no wish
to report their son or daughter to the Benefits Agency for holding onto the
Child Benefit book, fearing the repercussions from doing so. Social workers
informed of this situation have the legal duty to report the situation. This can
lead to family disputes about who is caring for the child.
9 Grandparent’s Association, Factsheet 4: Residence Orders, see: http://www.grandparentsfederation.
org/uk/factsheets/factsheet4.html accessed 25 February 2005
10 See annex 3
In April 2004, social services in the Wirral revised their approach to Residence
Order allowance payments to related and non-related local authority foster
carers. Up until then the Residence Order allowance paid out by social
services was not equivalent to the fostering allowance paid to local authority
approved foster carers and was means-tested. This fact, it was felt, was
deterring many from applying for Residence Orders. The new scheme entitled
grandparents who were registered as foster carers to continue to receive
fostering allowances, as well as the residence allowances. This welcome
move seeks to reduce the number of children and young people in the local
There is no centrally held record which lists the number of grandparents who
have Residence Orders for their grandchildren. This is due to there being no
requirement placed upon local authorities to keep a register of all children on
Residence Orders. Also, grandparents who make an application for a
Residence Order are not distinguished in the court process from other
relatives and friends. For the grandparents identified by the Wirral Social
Services who looked after their grandchildren, the parenting arrangements are
broken down as follows11:
Table 1: Parenting arrangements of Wirral’s grandparents:
Parenting arrangements No. of sets of
Registered foster carers 38
of which received a Residence Order
Informal arrangements 15
Grandparents in Birkenhead who answered our survey
11 See annex 1
What became clear from the answers to the survey was that the local
authority will only respond to requests for support, assistance, or advice by grandparents. Subsequently there is a greater likelihood for local authorities to overlook grandparents who look after their grandchildren.
report that the financial advice they receive is often poor, and they often feel
as though they have been ignored by social services.
Grandparents who look after their grandchildren are very hard up financially.
Most of the sample are pensioners and the average pensioners income is
below the average income of those of working age. Yet this group is faced
with substantial financial commitments. School trips, days out, clothes and
holidays were listed by the grandparents in our survey as some of the hardest
things to finance. A small proportion of the grandparents in our survey (20 per
cent) were still working to support their grandchildren.
There is no pattern to the types of the benefits that are claimed by
grandparents looking after their grandchildren. This suggests something of the
complexity and confusion surrounding the availability of these benefits to
those raising grandchildren. The disqualification from eligibility to one benefit
because of the receipt of another benefit is another potential pitfall. The
sources of income for grandparents who took part in our survey can be seen
from the table below:
Table 4: Sources of income for grandparents who look after their
‘…grandparents should have the right to be heard and to have
their views considered by public authorities who make
decisions which will affect them, particularly where European
Convention Rights (such as the right to respect for private and
family life) are involved.’13
13 Grandparents, Age Concern Policy Position Papers, October 2004 para.10
http://www.ageconcern.org.uk/AgeConcern … ct2004.pdf accessed March 7th
Social services should have the responsibility to provide a range and level of
services and financial support appropriate for grandchildren living with their
grandparents. There is an even greater requirement to assess families
headed by grandparents and their need for support. There needs to be
greater recognition of the strains – both physical and financial - that are
placed on grandparents who bring up their grandchildren.
Without these measures, grandparents will continue to be penalised for
wanting to bring up their grandchildren within their own family to give children
the best possible start in life. Grandparents who act as parents to their
grandchildren need to be guaranteed a minimum financial income. The
Birkenhead grandparents who took part in our survey believe their interests and their circumstances would be best solved by a flat rate, non means-tested benefit. Such a benefit would override the current patchwork of existing benefits which are designed to cater for parents’ needs and pensioners needs, not older parents’ needs. Action is urgently required if the financial situation of this forgotten stratum of society’s unsung heroes is to be successfully relieved.