Many readers of this post are or will be grandparents. We all have grandparents. Many provide childcare for their grandchildren - picking them up from school, helping in the holidays or when parents return to work.
But some grandparents are doing even more - they are full-time carers for their grandchildren because the parents for whatever reason are unable to look after their children. These kinship carers are a hidden army giving children a better start in life with little support or recognition.
According to a national charity, nearly half of the UK's 200,000 grandparents and kinship carers who are bringing up relatives' children in traumatic circumstances face stigma and discrimination, often from public officials, with their children bullied and excluded from activities and many carers forced to give up their jobs.
The first survey of its kind, conducted by Grandparents Plus, reveals that:
• 43% of kinship carers report having been stigmatised, discriminated against or treated rudely or differently, because they are raising a relative's child
• Over a quarter (28%) of all kinship carers say they have been mistreated by a social worker and one in six (16%) say the same about teachers
• One in five (22%) say they are treated differently by other parents, and many report that their child is bullied or excluded from activities by other children
• 90% say it is more challenging to bring up a relative's child than raising their own. 77% of kinship carers have asked for professional help, two thirds of these did not receive the support they needed - despite 59% of kinship carers bringing up a child with a disability or special needs
• 42% of kinship carers surveyed have quit their job or stopped working to care for a kinship child; 46% of those who gave up work are now dependent on welfare benefits.
Grandparents Plus warns that, without action, kinship carers and their children will continue to face unfair discrimination, also being penalised by a lack of entitlements and support and forced into poverty.
Children living in kinship care have experienced parental abuse or neglect, drug or alcohol misuse, ill health, domestic violence, imprisonment or the death of a parent. They are very similar to children in the care system but 95% do not have 'looked after' status and so are not entitled to financial or practical support and nor are their carers.
The charity calls on the Government to support kinship carers by:
• Guaranteeing that children can receive support based on their needs rather than their legal status
• Giving them adjustment leave and the same rights that adopters have to paid employment leave and protection, so they are not forced to give up their jobs
• Ensuring the benefits system supports and does not penalise kinship carers
Grandparents and family carers are unsung heroes. They do the right thing and step in to care for children, keeping them out of care, usually in very difficult circumstances and at great personal cost. Yet so many are experiencing discrimination by social workers, teachers and other parents.
The survey shows that many kinship carers are under serious financial strain, at the same time as looking after children who are traumatised or experiencing feelings of abandonment by their parents.
For many carers, particularly grandparents, it comes at a later stage in their lives, when they don't have the energy they once had. Discrimination is the last thing they need. The government needs to act now to ensure kinship carers are supported to raise their relatives' children.
That's why the work of Grandparents Plus is needed more than ever. The charity will be featured in the BBC One Lifeline Appeal at 4.15pm on Sunday 14th December. The programme will be presented by TV celebrity Gloria Hunniford who is also backing the charity's call for more support for grandparents and family carers. More information can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/lifeline.