Doing right by kinship carers
Now here’s a funny thing. I recently came back to work from maternity leave. I had 9 months’ paid leave, time to bond with my baby, and to manage and adapt to the changes in our lives that a new baby brings. Now imagine I’m a 55 year old grandmother whose daughter has been taken into hospital after overdosing on heroin. My grandchildren aged 5 and 2 arrive at my door unannounced. The social worker who brings them says will I take them or they will go into care. I don’t hesitate to say ‘yes’. I forget to ask the important questions but assume that can be taken care of later. I phone my boss to say I need some time off for a family emergency. But I don’t want to tell him the real reason why, he doesn’t know my daughter is a drug addict.
I then enter a world of confusion anxiety and delay as I negotiate with children’s services, get legal advice, sort out school and childcare arrangements, buy the children clothes and find beds for them to sleep in. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But all the while my employer is growing impatient. He was understanding at first but it’s two weeks since the children arrived at my door. They can’t go back to mum and I will have them with me for many months if not permanently. The social worker is telling me to give up my job to care for them. The children have led chaotic lives and need stability. I would really like to stay in work. but I’m only entitled to unpaid emergency leave. I don’t have any other rights. I can’t even request flexible working. What can I do?
Well, what most grandparents and family (kinship) carers do in that situation is give up work. New Grandparents Plus research has found that half (47%) of grandparents and kinship carers in this situation give up their job, that’s 9,000 every year. Only 13% of those who gave up work are now back in work. A combination of a lack of leave entitlements and the stress of the situation, plus pressure from social workers, drives them out of the workplace. We want to end this injustice and see kinship carers entitled to a period of paid leave, equivalent to adoption leave or maternity leave. We also want the Government keep its promise to extend the right to request flexible working.
Kinship carers are doing the right thing for their families, isn’t it time we did the right thing for them?