With around 200,000 children living with kinship carers in the UK, such families do not have the support and rights they need, despite the children and young people often having been through similar traumas to those that are fostered or adopted. Here we tell the compelling story of one woman’s struggle as a kinship carer.
55 year old Carol; an engaging, articulate and lucid lady, with a warm heart and a lovely smile.
But behind that smile, there lies a harrowing story of loss, loneliness and isolation.
At a time in her life when she should be enjoying all the joys of grand parenthood, Carol’s life is anything but settled and happy.
In 2009, Carol’s daughter Lucy died suddenly; she had taken her 10 year old son, Luke, to school as normal and returned home where she died from unexplained blood clots. She was just 30 years old.
It was a normal morning for Carol as she headed off to work; but her life was about to change forever.
A visit from the police announced the news that her only daughter was dead and her grandson was parent less.
As a grandparent, Carol was now in the position of parenting a 10 year old boy. She had to give up work but with no support from any agencies, her financial position soon became very precarious – relying solely on her partner’s pension.
Carol explained : “When my daughter died, it was a very dark time for us. Although my grandson was used to staying with us, it was a time of great upheaval. He still doesn’t talk about it much. Not only did we have to deal with the huge emotional burden, we quickly realised that there was absolutely no help available to us.”
In (year), Carol read about a new charity in the then Worcester Evening News called Kinship Carers, based in Worcester. The charity champions the vital role of kinship carers when they take on the challenging role of permanently parenting someone else’s child.
Set up in 2011 by local carer Enza Smith, the charity was launched when Mrs Smith found herself in the isolated position of bringing up her daughter’s two small children, with none of the support available had she fostered or adopted.
This rang a chord with Carol and her situation and since then she has attended the charity’s monthly support group; although most of those attending are there due to the natural parent’s being blighted by drugs and alcohol, her story of bereavement is very different.
However, Carol finds great solace in the support and understanding she receives.
She explained : “Listening to other stories has given me a sense of belonging and I no longer feel isolated; it has given me time to reflect and it is always both heart breaking and heart warming to hear other stories. Such emotional help is vital.”
However, practical support for people like Carol is virtually non-existent. When Luke was 16 years old, the benefits his mother had received stopped and although Carol tried every avenue to get some financial assistance, all doors were closed and her and Luke are still entitled to nothing, a far cry from the help available for those who adopt or foster.
Coupled with that is Luke’s mental health – he suffers from ADHD; he is not likely to ever leave his grandmother’s home and this is a constant worry as Carol and her partner enter the latter stages of life. Now enrolled on a computer course at college, Luke still remains a quiet, introverted young man.
Enza explained : “The legal status and support for kinship carers lags far behind foster parents and adoptive parents. While children who go through fostering or adoption are often given fast-tracked help with mental health problems, for example, this does not apply to children taken into the care of relatives for the same reasons of neglect or bereavement. This can mean waiting years to help children with serious attachment issues or in cases we know of not getting any or very little help at all.
“Similarly, foster parents have a set amount of financial support for taking in children, whereas some kinship carers are eligible for nothing, or only get help set at a discretionary rate by their local authority.”
Kinship Carers is currently working with various local solicitors with the aim of highlighting the legal rights of both carers and children, which can be bypassed by local authorities. The charity is also working with The University of Worcester on developing the UK’s first kinship programmes for both kinship carers and children; it is hoped these programmes will be rolled out throughout the UK later this year.
Enza concluded: “Raising awareness of our valuable work is critical if we are to have a positive impact on both carers and children.
“Sadly, for many reasons, some children cannot live with their natural parents. Perhaps parents have died or are unable or unsuitable to care for them. In such circumstances, grandparents, relatives and friends can be asked by social services to care for such children rather than having them placed with foster carers.
“Decisions to look after a child in these circumstances are often made at short notice, but such decisions are often life-changing, for carers and children. It can be a lonely and scary process which is completely unexpected and unprepared for.”