Nobody knows exactly how many children in Scotland are being brought up by relatives other than their parents, but what we do know is the kind of problems these families often face.

Frequently, it is a grandparent who steps in when a crisis occurs and that can lead to children being brought up in a household where the main income is the state pension and child benefit. Not only that, because of the often informal nature of these kinship-care arrangements, some families find themselves detached from formal sources of help, such as social services. It can mean the life of the kinship carer and the children they look after ends up being one of poverty and isolation.

For a number of years kinship carers in Scotland have been trying valiantly to raise awareness of this troubling situation and now, at last, there has been significant progress. A group of around 100 carers have launched the Scottish Kinship Care Alliance, which will campaign for more help from councils and the Scottish Government.

There can be no question that the new alliance has much work to do. Kinship carers face many difficulties, even if much of the community remains hidden from view. Children are often being brought up by kinship carers because of drug problems, alcohol dependency or domestic violence and this ends up having a double impact.

First, the children themselves struggle to cope – many of them end up having emotional and behavioural difficulties – but often the carers feel the impact as well – many struggle with depression; others already have a health condition or a disability when they take the children on.

Anne Swartz, the chairwoman of the new alliance, illustrates the impact of many of these issues. She was forced to give up her job to look after her three grandchildren, who have health problems and challenging behaviour, and is now seeking a change to government policy. She believes that, in contrast to children in formal foster care arrangements, kinship families have been the victim of discrimination by the institutions that should be helping them.

That accusation is at yet unproven, but it is certainly incumbent on policy makers, politicians, councils and social work departments to listen carefully to what the alliance has to say. For instance, it may be that the Scottish Government needs to look again at the level of financial help that is offered to kinship carers. Foster carers receive £300 a week; kinship carers receive only £50. Can this be fair?

Policy makers should also carefully consider what will happen if they do not act. Not only can an investment to help children in kinship care help prevent problems that will show up in the child's teenage years, but supporting kinship carers can also prevent children ending up in children's homes, with all the associated costs. One estimate is that each child cared for in a kinship arrangement saves the taxpayer between £23,000 and £56,000 a year. Not that saving money should be the main motivation – that should be helping carers bring up children in safe, secure and stable environments.