Relatives who step up to look after a child in what is known as kinship care should be given paid leave instead of feeling forced to cut their hours or quit their jobs due to a lack of support, a charity has said.
There are more than 162,000 children in England and Wales being raised by either a friend or family member other than their parents, the Kinship organisation said.
In its small survey of kinship carers, it found the majority are either forced out of the workplace or they have to reduce their hours when they take on the care of a child, “plunging kinship families into poverty and leading to significant additional costs to the state”.
The charity is calling on the Government to commit to statutory paid leave for kinship carers on a par with adoptive parents, and for employers to deliver “kinship-friendly” employment policies such as flexible hours.
Its survey of 509 kinship carers in England and Wales found 41% felt forced out of the workforce, 45% felt forced to reduce their hours, and more than two-thirds (68%) said their employers did not offer any support such as paid leave or flexible working hours.
More than a quarter (28%) of the kinship carers asked ended up having to claim benefits when they took on the care of a child, while more than a third (34%) experienced a drop in their income of more than 50% after becoming a kinship carer.
As well as a right to paid kinship care leave, it called on the Government to introduce a mandatory financial allowance for kinship carers and local authorities to provide better employment advice and support to kinship families.
The charity’s chief executive, Lucy Peake, said a legal requirement for all kinship carers to have the same access to paid leave and other workplace entitlements as parents and adopters “would alleviate some of the extreme financial hardship kinship families are facing”.
She added: “We are also encouraging employers to consider the needs of kinship carers alongside others who have parental responsibilities in their family friendly policies.
“We are developing a ‘Kinship Friendly Employers’ initiative to encourage and support organisations across England and Wales to start making these changes, and I’m delighted at the positive response we’ve already had from a number of pioneering employers.”
The Government said it is working to explore possible additional workplace entitlements for kinship carers with a Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangement Order.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Kinship carers provide crucial support to some of our most vulnerable children. Our new children’s social care strategy sets out how we will provide them with more support, including through a £9 million training and support programme and creating peer support groups through the Mockingbird programme.
“We’re also providing £47 million to help more children stay in loving homes, including with extended family members, and exploring options for additional workplace entitlements for some kinship carers.
“At the end of this year we will publish a national kinship care strategy, the first time Government has ever published a plan for improving kinship care.”