MORE than 100 family carers who look after children when their parents are unable to do so are launching a new campaign group to end "institutionalised discrimination" by councils and the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Kinship Care Alliance will call for proper recognition and help from the authorities when it launches in Glasgow today.

It is believes at least 15,000 children in Scotland are brought up by relatives other than their parents, with some campaigners estimating the total number is significantly higher because of the informal nature of many arrangements.

Anne Swartz, chairwoman of the Alliance, said: "Kinship children are routinely written off and discriminated against, while [those in] foster placements have access to a wide range of support and services.

"Enough is enough. We have come together to put a stop to this institutionalised discrimination and fight for the rights of our children. We are sick of seeing the children in our care suffer without the basic support from local authorities."

Ms Swartz has cared for three grandchildren for the last five years. Now 59, she had to give up her job as a freelance lecturer and trainer to provide care for the children, now teenagers, who have health problems and challenging behaviour.

"I had a career that suddenly vanished but I would do it again tomorrow," she said. "We all do it because we love the children. You can't put a price tag on that but if we didn't take them on, it would cost the Government millions to provide foster care."

She knows she is not alone in having to battle for support from social work. "I didn't even know I could claim any help. Eventually we got child benefit and tax credits sorted out, but there is a need for much greater transparency from local authorities.

"Social work departments try not to acknowledge the needs of kinship carers because resources are so scarce, but many kinship carers are very badly off yet have to find money for baby equipment and clothes for children who arrive suddenly just with what they stand up in."

Ms Swartz, of Dumbarton, said policy makers and politicians usually sought information about kinship care from charities that did not have first-hand knowledge of the problems faced by relatives.

The full extent of these are laid bare in a report published today by Buttle UK, a charity that provides grants to children living in poverty, and researchers from Bristol University. It shows the majority of kinship carers are grandparents and 51% are lone carers. Most have given up jobs or retirement plans to provide a home for children, usually as a result of a crisis.

Interviews with carers and children from all over the UK revealed many of the grandparents had only their pensions to live on. As well as poverty, 83% of those aged 40 and over had a long-standing health condition or disability.

Two-thirds of the carers were clinically depressed on a standard measure used by researchers, although only 27% had been diagnosed as such. The poorest group were those caring for their younger siblings.

Children in kinship placements tend to do better than those in foster or residential care, but many – especially the one in three who had suffered the death of a parent – are anxious and fear their grandparent might also die.

The parents of two-thirds of the children in the study had addiction problems and were incapable of parenting, but most were not entirely absent, often creating difficulties for both the carers and children. Some 34% of the children had behavioural or emotional difficulties.

Despite the catalogue of needs, the informal nature of kinship care arrangements means social work provision is haphazard. The Buttle Trust, whose representatives see the problems at first hand, is backing the recommendations of the report. The main one is a national allowance, which they believe would enable more relatives to look after children who would otherwise go into care.

Professor Elaine Farmer of Bristol University says a culture change in social work is required to provide more support to kinship carers, including referring families to special services such as bereavement counselling or psychological services.

"For many kinship carers, a small amount of help would go a very long way," she said.