If you need help, who do you turn to? I don’t mean help with the little day to day things but the big problems that can happen, the things that really cause you to worry. Most of us turn to family, maybe our own parents if we need support or we may have good friends we can rely on. But if you are having to pick up the pieces of family breakdown, or stepping in to raise a child who has been neglected because his mum and dad are misusing drugs it’s a bit harder to find people who will really understand what that’s like. Unless they have been there too. At Grandparents Plus we’ve found that the peer support network we provide for kinship carers is really valuable. When we hold regional or national events the feedback we get is always the same – it’s so good to meet others in the same situation. They understand. Six out of 10 of our Network members feel less isolated just by being in the Network.
Our research has found that an overwhelming 93% of kinship carers who completed our parenting survey feel it is harder to raise their kinship children than it was raising their own children. There are many reasons for this – for older kinship carers it can just be harder meeting the needs of children, whatever their age. But it is also often because the children have significant needs. We found the children have an average of five to six behavioural challenges. They have usually been through a traumatic experience. Often parental drug or alcohol misuse, neglect in some cases, possibly bereavement. They need significantly more support than other children may need. This takes it toll on the carers who do a magnificent job but tell us they experience feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. One of the things kinship carers find most challenging is managing their own emotions with 78% of our parenting survey respondents saying this was an issue for them. We want to do something about that.
So we’ve got together with leading family charities Family Lives and the Family and Parenting Institute to develop a new way of working to provide peer support for kinship carers to help them meet the challenges of raising a child in kinship care. With the support of the Big Lottery Fund Silver Dreams Fund and the Daily Mail we are launching the Relative Experience project in Newcastle on 14th February.
We know that those who have lived through similar experiences can also bring more than understanding and empathy. They can provide real inspiration, useful insights, tips on who to contact and where to go, pointers on what to do, what worked for them and what didn’t. The project will recruit at least 20 older volunteers from Newcastle and North Tyneside, many of them kinship carers too. It will provide training and will then match them to 40 kinship families who need their help. It will be evaluated and, if things go well, we may be able to scale the project up and provide this same model across the country. We are keeping our (Lottery) fingers crossed for that!
Posted by Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus