One Kinship Carer says there are about 8,000 children in Ireland living with relatives that aren’t their parents, and they’re not receiving any financial support.

WHAT IS KINSHIP Care? It is the instance where children are cared for by a relative, or close family friend when a parent is unable to provide that care.

This can be for a range of reasons such as parental illness, imprisonment, abandonment, substance misuse, capacity, abuse, or death.

Kinship Care is not formally recognised or supported in welfare payments or social services. Many informal Kinship Care families are invisible and essential legal, financial, health, educational and emotional supports are inaccessible.

This difficult reality has been my family’s experience, and it needs to change.

Stepping up

My husband and I took over the care of our grandson as family circumstances meant that he was unable to be cared for at home. We didn’t know where to begin to help a child who was traumatised. But we love him, and when the alternative was State care and family separation, we knew our love was the only place to start.

We thought there would be a route to support, but every aspect of this role was another hoop to jump through, another closed door.

Can you imagine if your family size doubled or tripled tonight? The huge change it brings and the support you need? To find ourselves in this position was tricky enough to navigate, but knowing that there was no help from the State was really disheartening.

  • The Noteworthy investigative team want to examine State support for older people providing full time care for their grandkids. Support this project here.

Due to my grandson’s anxiety, we went to the GP and got help with that first. It took a long time for the anxiety to reduce and even now, years later, he has periods where it returns. We were lucky because we could access his parent for medical consent, but I know if I wasn’t able to get that consent, my grandson’s mental health could have gone without intervention at a time when he most needed it.

Accessing supports

The Home School Community Liaison teacher was helpful, they gave us some information, organised art therapy and pointed us towards the local Family Resource Centre. The social groups here gave our grandson an outlet and helped with his confidence. However, there’s no standard practice for accessing support and it really is ‘luck of the draw’.

The Kinship Care Ireland programme was a great help. We got information on what was available in terms of payments, where we stood legally and more importantly the support of other kinship carers.

We thought we were the only ones, but it turns out there are an estimated 10,000-12,000 children in Ireland in Informal Kinship Care. For our family, knowing we weren’t on our own was everything.

If you are in need of financial supports you have to battle hard for them as a kinship carer. The Guardian’s Payment took six months of appeals, back and forth. We provided letters from the school, GP, Family Resource Centre, Kinship Care Ireland and Tusla confirming our Guardianship of our grandson, and that we’d been his sole carers for a number of years, but it still went to appeal. Again, more hoops to jump through.

Three years into the role of Kinship Carers, we finally have legal guardianship, Child Benefit and only recently, the Guardian’s payment. I often think, If we had only known this information at the beginning of this journey — if we knew where to go – all the worry and stress could have been avoided.

How many other Kinship Carers are out there going through these challenges alone and being pushed to the brink in order to fulfil their caring role?

Kinship Care Ireland is the only representative group working in this area and is pushing for the recognition, rights and social supports for our family type. In February 2023, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child specifically called on the Irish Government to ‘develop a policy on the rights of children in informal Kinship Care’.

Following this, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman gave a commitment to work this year on a policy. Without a policy, the challenges that my family faced will remain the same for families stepping up and into this role.

There are two different categories of Kinship Care:

  •  Formal Kinship Care is when there is an arrangement in place that is known to social services, a relative has gone through a Foster Care Assessment and is eligible for social supports and the Foster Carers payment. We enquired about the official relative Foster Care route for our family and were told there would be a home inspection and interviews. We were informed that if we didn’t pass the assessment, my grandson would remain in our care but just not as a Relative Foster Carer. This really highlighted the inequality to us.
  •  Informal Kinship Care is when there isn’t a formal arrangement with social services and there is no recognised pathway to support. Families in informal Kinship Care can apply for the Guardian’s payment, but the processing time is lengthy, involves appeals and many applications are refused. In 2022 under 2,500 payments of Guardian’s payment were made, this means an estimated 8,000 children are in receipt of no financial support. And the rate of the Guardian’s payment, for those who do receive it, needs to be increased to avoid poverty.

Internationally, Formal Kinship Care and Informal Kinship Care are identified as ‘Alternative Care’ – and both are formally recognised within social welfare and social support systems.

Kinship Carers like me are seeking understanding and support from Government, TDs and the general public. Kinship families need to be heard and valued for the important role we play in keeping children from going into State care.

Our grandson was fully traumatised when he came to us. We get so much joy from seeing him coming back to himself and laughing. He’s standing tall again now and he’s back smiling. We are so proud of him. And we are proud of ourselves too, that despite it all we are here together, as a family.

Change needs to happen with urgency for our family – and for thousands more.

The author wishes to remain anonymous. Kinship Care Ireland is hosted by the charity Treoir. Any person seeking information or support can contact Kinship Care Ireland at: / / 087 148 7124.