What I wished I’d known about kinship care
Margaret Jones** is a kinship carer and has looked after her granddaughter for the past decade. Here she shares some of the rewards and challenges this brings.
It’s ten years since my gorgeous granddaughter came to live with me after her mum and dad got into difficulties. Overnight I was thrown into this joint role of being both gran and mum to a toddler. Living in a small town, where everyone knows everyone, it’s not always been an easy journey, but it’s one we’ve made together, learning as we went along and as situations arose, and watching her grow and thrive has been an amazing reward.
I moved to where we live now to help Sophie**, turning my own life upside down. I made big changes not only in where I lived, but my employment too, as finding the time to care for a young child is nearly impossible if you're working full time. I live alone and care for a child, and that can be difficult. I’ve had to turn away my own (adult) children from my door, to make sure Sophie is safe – she has to come first – this goes against an inbuilt mothering instinct, but she has to come first and that can leave me feeling torn.
I’ve learned the hard way, to be honest, to tell Sophie what is happening, or decisions that have been taken, and how to do this appropriately for her age, because she's at that age now where, if I don't tell her, somebody at school or in the street would. As I said, we live in a small town. Sophie has been staying with me so long, she doesn’t know anything else, and says she feels safe and loves being here.
Navigating a complex system is hard
Understanding social work processes and procedures is hard - the ‘system’ is complex and complicated. Before Sophie came to live with me, I didn’t have any experience of working with social workers or the law. I found much of the language bewildering – anyone who is not involved will not understand the difference between a “Section 11”, a “Section 25”, or “permanency”, and my social worker and Citizen’s Advice have both helped me to navigate through it all. I’ve turned up to meetings to find that people don’t show up, or things mentioned at previous meetings hadn’t been done and the meeting would be postponed. This was frustrating as I’d need to go through it all again.
I’m still not clear about everything even after ten years - for instance, although it is agreed that living here with me is the best place for Sophie, there is still a chance that her parents could legally turn up and take her away, and the older Sophie becomes, the more aware she is of this and it can be unsettling for both of us. My current situation means that I have no parental rights and therefore have no say over decisions at school, decisions about her health say with doctors and dentists or any of the many other day-to-day priorities for a child that parents take for granted.
There’s lots of help out there
Even though I work part-time, it’s been important for me to find out what financial support is out there. Costs can be significant for clothing, food, travel, school uniforms, and all the incidental costs of raising a child. The kinship allowance means Sophie can follow a hobby that is one of her passions – and it’s something she shares with one of her sisters and they can do together. I encourage her to have outside interests and to pursue them, and getting the kinship allowance gives me the breathing space to let her do the sports that she loves.
In terms of practical advice and support, it’s taken me a long time to realise that social workers are on my side - the role social workers do as a sounding board is incredible – they just understand our situation and ‘get it’.
The importance of self-care
I’ve also discovered how incredibly important it is to look after yourself – you can become so absorbed in looking after everyone else’s needs that it is so easy to forget that your own battery needs recharging. Whether that is ‘me time’, the need to talk, or counselling, you’re no use to anyone if you burn yourself out or bottle everything up, and there are charities out there that offer support like this, such as Circle.
If I had a message for anyone suddenly new to the role of kinship carer, it is to find out about and know your rights, and get the support you need. You will make mistakes, but with the right support around you, that’s okay. You need emotional support to help deal with difficult circumstances and situations and to help children and young people deal with their circumstances because one of the differences between kinship care and, for instance, foster care is that relationships can be and often are much more complex due to the family dynamics you’re part of.
Seeing the child in your care flourish and grow in a stable home is the best reward of all.
** Names have been changed to protect the identity of the carer and her family.
The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.
Commenting on the blog posts
Sharing comments and perspectives prompted by the posts on this blog are welcome. CELCIS operates a moderation process so your comment will not go live straight away.