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Inverness grandmother reveals 'constant fight' for kinship caring support

By Ally Tibbitt

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Sylvia MacKenzie.
Sylvia MacKenzie.

A Culloden grandmother has hit out at Highland Council for failing to support her, or her 12-year-old grandson, after his parents both died within months of each other and she took over looking after him.

Sylvia MacKenzie described Highland Council as “a joke”, after she had to repeatedly chase up late or missing kinship carer payments. The payments are supposed to be paid to her each fortnight to help her look after her grandson.

The 57-year-old grandmother also cares for two of her own children, one of whom is an adult with autism. She said she has found the whole process of becoming a recognised kinship carer with Highland Council “incredibly hard,” two years after she first started caring for her grandson.

Mrs MacKenzie said that the children’s panel took a long time to make a formal decision on who should look after her grandson, and then she also had a battle with the council to make sure he could go to an appropriate school that could support him properly.

Despite her grandson having to cope with losing both his parents in the space of a few months, she said child mental health services “dropped him” when she took over his care and he moved to Culloden, and he has had “no support at all for two years”.

When she was first given her grandson to look after, she said she was provided with no help or guidance. She and her husband had to start sleeping in their living room as the house was not big enough for the whole family to have their own bedrooms.

“The fight to get him support has been constant,” she said. “The latest fight is over support payments. When someone is off, payments can be missed or delayed, and I know at least one other person is having the same problem with the council.”

Kinship carers are entitled to a carer allowance that varies depending on the age of the child being looked after, with additional fixed payments available for birthdays, Christmas and summer holidays. The rate for 11-15 year-old children is £352 per fortnight.

“I shouldn’t have to phone, and constantly check my bank account,” she said.

Between 2018 and 2019 she claimed support payments were “very frequently” missed. More recently the problem has started to happen again, with payments worth hundreds of pounds going missing unless she calls to chase council officers. Even then it can take several days for late payments to be made, she said.

“I’ve heard that someone at the council may be off sick, or someone is on holiday, and that’s why payments are not made, but that is ridiculous. It’s 2024. For each payment to have to be manually inputted is shocking. Kinship is just a failure, it’s really bad, and I know I’m not the only one that has put in a complaint.

“It’s really just the lack of concern. My husband works, and we manage, but this is absolutely no help at all. It’s a joke.”

A spokesperson for Kinship Care Scotland, a charity that provides independent advice and support to kinship carers said they “understand the significant challenges that kinship carers and their families can face and are here to work alongside them to get their needs met”.

“When carers can’t access the support that they need it can have a significant impact on their family, and most importantly on the children that they care for.”

Although they would not comment on individual cases, they added: “Kinship Care Advice Service for Scotland is available to provide information and support for kinship carers and their families, to help them to navigate their entitlements to support and to understand their rights.

Highland Council would not confirm how many kinship carers had been affected by missed or delayed payments, but they apologised to Mrs MacKenzie following enquiries from this paper and officials pledged they would improve their payments systems in a bid to tackle the problem.

“The council recognises the invaluable role which kinship carers play in supporting children and young people and in ensuring that they can continue to live within a familiar environment and their own community. As an organisation, we have procedures and protocols in place to support those who take on such a role, some of whom will be doing so for the first time and potentially in difficult circumstances,” a spokesperson said.

More information on Kinship Care Scotland can be found on www.kinship.scot

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