Grandparents who are forced to step in to raise their grandchildren are given inadequate financial, practical and legal support, a report will warn.
Research funded by the Home Office reveals at least 1 per cent of British grandparents make huge sacrifices to prevent their grandchildren going into care after the death of parents or family breakdowns.
Many are forced to retire early or cut their working hours so they can look after children for a second time. But they are frequently denied benefits, often encounter huge costs trying to obtain court orders to protect the children, and rarely receive adequate help from social services.
The report, complied by the Family Rights Group (FRG), calls for a series of government measures, including the creation of a special benefit or tax credit, to reduce the pressure on grandparents.
"Most grandparents in the survey had made enormous sacrifices in order to care for their grandchildren and yet they did not appear to be recognised or supported in their caring role. There is clearly a great gap in service provision which requires political as well as practical solutions," it says.
The recommendations follow a survey of 180 grandparents, most of whom stepped in after family traumas including bereavements, mental breakdowns or domestic crises.
Most of the respondents had struggled to cope financially, had been denied benefits because of their status, refused crisis loans when their grandchildren first moved into their homes, and experienced "enormous" costs and stress to obtain court residency orders.
Many grandparents also felt at a loss over how to help with homework and computers and felt excluded from their grandchildren's school life. A large number had chronic health problems and were worried about the future.
Alison Richards, an FRG legal adviser, said the role of grandparents had been "badly neglected". They needed uniform financial provision in line with foster carers, more support networks, cheaper access to the courts and a right to assessment of their needs, she added.
Chris Leaves, a retired social worker aged 60, and her husband Colin, 61 and also retired, have for the past 10 years looked after their two grand-daughters when the mother suffered serious mental illness.
The Leaves, of Peterborough, said Clare, now aged 19, and Helen, 16, had been "brilliant" to look after, but Mrs Leaves added: "There have been problems still keeping a relationship with our daughter, trying to work and make a living and trying to bring up children a second time around."
* More than 100,000 children in England are homeless, the charity Shelter estimated yesterday, after the release of government figures showing that a record 75,320 households, including families with youngsters, are being housed in temporary accommodation.Reuse content