Grandparents – the ‘hidden army’ of kinship carers

mamy and the little boy

By Heather Cameron

Tomorrow is the International Day of Older Persons, designated by the United Nations in order to recognise the important contributions made by older people, while raising awareness of the issues of ageing.

Today there are around 600 million people aged 60 years and over world-wide. A number that is set to double by 2025 and reach 2 billion by 2050.

With people living longer and healthier lives, it is not surprising older people are playing a considerably more active and increasingly important role in society. Not least when it comes to contributing to the care of their grandchildren.

Extent of kinship care

Kinship care – when children are brought up by relatives or family friends in the absence of their parents – has grown markedly in recent years.

It is estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 grandparents and other relatives are raising children who are unable to live with their parents. Common reasons cited for this include abuse and neglect, parental illness or disability, parental substance misuse, domestic violence or death of a parent.

In examining the prevalence of kinship care, drawing on census data, a recent University of Bristol study found that there has been a 7% increase in the kinship child population in England since 2001 – more than three times that of the population growth rate of all children in England, which was 2% over the same time period.

The study also found that one in two (51%) children were growing up in households headed by grandparents.

Positive outcomes

With regard to the children in kinship care, research suggests that they do ‘significantly better than children in care’, both emotionally and academically.

Indeed, a recent study on the educational outcomes of looked after children found that children in long-term foster or kinship care made better progress than children in other care settings.

The largest kinship carer survey in the UK, conducted by Family Rights Group, also highlights the effectiveness of kinship care in preventing children entering or remaining within the care system, to the benefit of both the child and the public purse. The data found that 56% of children had come to live with the kinship carer straight from the parents’ home, with 27% having been in unrelated foster care.

The caring contribution of grandparents has also been shown to have made a material difference to maternal rates of employment.

And as 95% of children being raised in kinship care are not officially ‘looked after’, billions of pounds are saved each year on care costs.

But while benefiting the public purse, and despite evidence that kinship children have better outcomes, many kinship families face a financial burden. The University of Bristol study found that 40% of all children in kinship care in England were living in households located in the 20% of the poorest areas in England (an improvement of only 4% since 2001), and three quarters (76%) of kinship children were living in a deprived household.

Impact on grandparents

As there is no statutory requirement for local authorities to make provision for kinship carers and no automatic right to child benefit, many receive no formal support; leading to financial hardship, and the stress that comes with it.

Many kinship carers have had to give up work or reduce their working hours, either permanently or temporarily. And this is often their main source of income.

A study from Grandparents Plus on discrimination against kinship carers found that of the 77% of grandparents that have asked for professional help, only 33% received the help they needed. And 30% said they didn’t receive any support at all.

The study also found that, overall, kinship carers score ‘significantly below average’ when it comes to their wellbeing.

Other recent research has suggested that regular and occasional care for grandchildren can impact on the mental health of grandparents. The findings indicated that ten additional hours of childcare per month increases the probability of developing depressive symptoms by 3.0 and 3.2 percentage point for grandmothers and 5.4 to 5.9 percentage points for grandfathers.

Policies that substitute informal with formal childcare, it argued, could improve the mental wellbeing of grandparents.

Of course there are positive impacts on grandparents too, many of whom find caring for grandchildren rewarding and who enjoy closer relationships with them, which can in turn have a positive effect on their health. As the research suggests:

the effect of grandchild care provision on grandparents’ health seems to depend on its intensity, the cultural context, as well as on its stability and change.”

Final thoughts

It is clear that grandparents play an increasingly vital role in family life. But it seems this role is in need of greater recognition and support, if society is to continue to benefit from this ‘hidden army’ of kinship carers.


If you enjoyed reading this, you may also be interested in our previous blog on the economic opportunities of an ageing society, published on last year’s International Day of Older Persons.

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Fathers and social services – is there a failure to engage?

paper family on handBy Heather Cameron

With failure to effectively engage with fathers repeatedly highlighted in serious case reviews over the years, it is worrying to hear that such failure is still evident within the social work profession.

Failure to engage

Just last week, a High Court judge heavily criticised children’s social workers for their “unprofessional” and “reprehensible” case building against a father whose child was up for adoption. The case involved making a decision on whether to return a two-year-old girl to her father and three siblings or allow her to be adopted by the couple she had lived with for the previous 16 months.

The judgement stated that the social workers’ evidence expressed opinions that they were not qualified to make, describing it as ‘psychobabble’. The judge also noted that this evidence was ‘entirely at odds’ with the evidence of qualified professionals and that the local authority gave insufficient weight to the observations of professionals working with the family.

The social workers were also criticised for continually referencing a “clearly out of date” parenting assessment completed in 2012, stating that this “still apparently colours their view of the father”.

It would seem that there could be deep-seated barriers within the social work profession preventing effective engagement with fathers.

Barriers

In fact, there has been much research around the barriers to fathers’ engagement.

It has been widely suggested that an inability among social workers to believe that a father has changed following past negative behaviour, and traditional assumptions and stereotypes about gender roles, have long played a role in preventing engagement.

An article published in 2009 which explored the representation of fathers in the social work literature argued that a pervasive and influential negative attitude towards fathers is widespread in the social work field.

More recently, a feasibility study highlighted that an analysis of serious case reviews conducted from April 2005 to March 2007 across England found a tendency for professionals to adopt ‘rigid’ or ‘fixed’ thinking, with fathers labelled as either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’, leading to attributions as to their reliability and trustworthiness. The influence of mothers (which can be good or bad), traditional approaches by the profession in relation to gender and parenting, and fathers being reluctant clients were also cited as barriers.

Such barriers have also been demonstrated by men’s experiences. A study which examined the experiences of fathers involved with statutory social work in Scotland highlighted that respondents reported feeling marginalised from child protection processes and facing barriers to contact with their children. Some men had experienced false accusations of sexual abuse, resulting in long-term involvement with child protection professionals; and some of the respondents felt that they were regarded with suspicion by professionals, with statutory conditions still being applied even after criminal charges had been dropped.

With such long-standing perceptions and approaches within the profession, it would be ill-advised to think that these can be fixed overnight. Nevertheless, there are signs that attitudes are changing.

Changing attitudes

A recent blog by Senior Evaluation Officer at the NSPCC, Nicola McConnell, acknowledges these tendencies within the profession but is confident attitudes are beginning to change. She highlights that only recently had she noticed that on most occasions she had not been interviewing ‘parents’ but almost exclusively mothers:

although services aim to work with parents, for a range of reasons including social organisation and gender expectations, services for children really tend to work with mothers.”

McConnell argues that this can lead to ‘flawed practice’ and discusses how professionals can improve their work with fathers through early engagement and taking a non-judgemental approach.

Facilitators of engagement have been consistently emphasised across the research:

  • Early identification and involvement of fathers;
  • Taking a proactive approach to engagement;
  • Making services relevant to fathers.

And the benefits of effective engagement have also been widely acknowledged. Numerous studies have emphasised the importance of engaging fathers for both children’s outcomes and risk management.

It has recently been highlighted that children with positively involved fathers tend to:

  • Make better friendships with better-adjusted children;
  • Have fewer behaviour problems;
  • Be less involved in criminality and substance abuse;
  • Do better at school;
  • Have greater capacity for empathy;
  • Have higher self-esteem and life-satisfaction.

Good practice

A project highlighted in a recent article in Children and Young People Now which aimed to increase social workers’ engagement with fathers and father figures has had positive results. Following the intervention at one local authority:

  • the percentage of fathers involved in their child’s core assessment rose from 47% to 82%;
  • the percentage of fathers invited to the initial case conference rose from 72% to 90%;
  • and the percentage of fathers whose involvement with the child was discussed at the initial case conference rose from 78% to 100%.

Social workers reported improvements in their practice, including motivating fathers to change problematic behaviour, engaging abusive men in discussion about their behaviour and assessing fathers’ positive qualities. It was also reported that some children had been placed with their fathers instead of being taken into care as a result of their new approach.

So progress is being made, illustrating that it is possible for engagement barriers to be overcome.


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to further research and good practice on social care services – to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Caring Dads: Safer Children – interim evaluation report (2014, NSPCC)

Engaging fathers in child welfare services: a narrative review of recent research evidence, IN Child and Family Social Work, Vol 17 No 2 May 2012, pp160-169

Fathers’ involvement in children’s services: exploring local and national issues in Moorlandstown, IN British Journal of Social Work, Vol 42 No 3 Apr 2012, pp500-518

Don’t ignore the father, IN Community Care, No 1818 13 May 2010, pp16-17

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Child obesity – public health or child protection issue?

By Heather Cameron

The issue of childhood obesity is in the spotlight again. Just weeks after the Channel 4 series Junk food kids: who’s to blame? highlighted shocking stories of children having gained several stones in weight and children as young as four with rotten teeth, a new study reveals that parents rarely spot obesity in their children.

The results of the survey, given to nearly 3,000 families, showed that nearly a third, 31%, of parents underestimated the weight of their child. It would therefore be fair to say, as highlighted by one of the researchers, that “if parents don’t recognise a child is obese then they’re very unlikely to do anything to help their child move to a more healthy weight. Then it’s a potential major public health crisis being stored up.”

Obesity experts have called for stricter rules on the advertising of unhealthy foods and drinks in a bid to help address this public health issue. And the public would seem to support this, according to a recent poll, which revealed that almost two-thirds of Britons surveyed want a ban on junk food TV ads until after the watershed.

But is the childhood obesity epidemic just a public health issue?

There has been a high degree of contention for some time over whether obesity should also be considered a child protection concern. Numerous news reports have questioned whether children should be taken into care if they are considered obese and potentially at risk of harm.

Just last year it was reported that up to 74 morbidly obese children in the UK were estimated to have been taken into care over the previous five years, according to figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws.

Prior to this, an article from Protecting Children Update that looked at physical abuse in children highlighted obesity as a form of abuse, suggesting that many professionals see obesity as a form of neglect.

Similarly, the researchers of a much cited paper published in The BMJ in 2010 – When does childhood obesity become a child protection issue?argue that parents who refuse to help their overweight children to lose weight are neglectful. They say that whilst obesity alone is not a child protection issue:

consistent failure to change lifestyle and engage with outside support indicates neglect… childhood obesity becomes a child protection concern when parents behave in a way that actively promotes treatment failure in a child who is at serious risk from obesity.”

The report raises questions over how obesity should be addressed in terms of child protection, however, noting that there is evidence that families of obese children were being unfairly accused of abuse where rare genetic conditions were involved. It also suggests that removing obese children from their parents may in fact make matters worse.

With a lack of published evidence and guidelines for professionals, the report therefore suggests the following framework for action:

  • Childhood obesity alone is not a child protection issue
  • Failure to reduce overweight alone is not a child protection concern
  • Consistent failure to change lifestyle and engage with outside support indicates neglect, particularly in younger children
  • Obesity may be part of wider concerns about neglect or emotional abuse
  • Assessment should include systemic (family and environmental) factors

There is certainly no room for complacency, considering the knock-on effect the failure to recognise obesity could have on the nation’s health, not to mention health and social care services.


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on public health and social care topics, to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Some resources may only be available to Idox Information Service members.

Overcoming obesity: changing hearts and minds, IN Community Practitioner, Vol 87 No 3 Mar 2014, pp16-18

Process evaluation outcomes from a global child obesity prevention intervention, IN BMC Public Health, Vol 14 No 757 2014

The inactivity time bomb: the economic cost of physical inactivity in young people (CEBR, 2014)

Preventing child obesity: a long-term evaluation of the HENRY approach, IN Community Practitioner, Vol 83 No 7 Jul 2013, pp23-27

Is obesity a child protection issue?, IN Community Care, No 1833 2 Sep 2010, pp16-17

Troubled families approach expands … but is the evidence there?

paper family on handBy Dorothy Laing

Nobody likes the idea of experiencing antisocial behaviour on their doorsteps so further government action to help ‘troubled families’ will almost certainly be welcomed by neighbours and local communities alike.

On 19th August, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced an extension of the Troubled Families Programme, as findings from independent research carried out for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) – National Evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme interim report family monitoring data: a report by Ecorys UK and Understanding Troubled Families – revealed the current state of progress. Continue reading