Hitting the headlines

Following the recent good news that the Relative Experience project will be funded for a further three years, BBC Radio Newcastle did a week-long feature on the issues faced by kinship carers cumulating in a live phone-in show which gave grandparents and other family members raising a relative’s child the chance to talk about their situation.

The switchboard at Radio Newcastle was overwhelmed by the number of calls that came through – kinship carers are often hidden and do not have many opportunities to be heard.

The Relative Experience project was mentioned constantly throughout the week, detailing the work we are doing in the North East. Look North (the local TV news) also did a three minute feature of the work one of our befriending volunteers has carried out with a kinship carer, highlighting the positive effect the befriending service had on the kinship carer’s life.

Sheila, Alice and Jenny pose for a photo in the House of Commons

Sheila, Alice and Jenny pose for a photo in the House of Commons

BBC news cameras followed the Relative Experience staff, volunteers and a kinship carer as we went to the Houses of Parliament in March to mark the end of the pilot project. We were taking part in an event aimed at presenting the finding of our evaluation to key decision makers, including Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson MP. Sheila, one of our volunteers, spoke during the event about her experiences, as did kinship carer Alice. It really did bring home how the power of the befriending relationship can change lives and was a wonderful experience for us all.

We are all excited about the ‘scale-up’ funding and are looking forward to taking the work of the Relative Experience Project further afield to a wider audience.

Posted by Jenny Mckenna

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Posted in Big Lottery Fund, Grandparents, kinship carers, North East England, Parenting, Silver Dreams, Volunteers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

From little acorns …

Things have been so busy at the project that the blog has been sadly neglected! However, we have exciting news to share with everyone – we have been chosen for scale-up funding by the Big Lottery Fund Silver Dreams Fund! We are absolutely delighted that our project will be funded for a further three years – huge thanks to the Lottery for their support, which will mean that the project will expand across the North East region building on the Newcastle-based pilot project.

The pilot project came to an end with two events. In February we gathered once again at the Assembly Rooms in Newcastle to celebrate what the project had achieved – it didn’t seem possible that a whole year had passed since we held our launch event there! The event gave kinship carer Alice the chance to speak about the support her befriender had given her. “My befriender is a big help and I have no fear of saying the wrong thing or not being listened too,” said Alice. “There are a lot of people out there that suffer alone. I am proof of this, kinship carers do what we do for the love of our children and their children’s children and we need this support.” Volunteer Jackie also spoke about the befriender’s perspective and how getting involved with the project made her feel more confident.

The event included discussions on how best to support kinship carers before ending with lunch, which gave everyone the chance to chat and speak to the project team about our hopes for the future – at the time we didn’t know that we had been chosen for the scale-up funding so we were still keeping our fingers crossed.

Edward Timpson MP responds to Alice and Sheila's comments

Edward Timpson MP responds to Alice and Sheila’s comments

The second event took place on 26 March with kinship carers, volunteers and the project team coming down to London to the House of Commons. The event was hosted by Fiona Mactaggart MP and Edward Timpson MP, Minister for Children and Families, attended to hear directly from a kinship carer and volunteer from the project. Danny Silverstone from the Big Lottery Fund also spoke at the event and said some very kind words about the difference the project is making and why the Big Lottery Fund Silver Dreams Fund will continue to support us for a further three years.

Three briefing papers have been written for the project, which were given to everyone at the London event. They focus on:

Relative Experience Briefing 1 – Issues and challenges for kinship carers
Relative Experience Briefing 2 – What is peer-to-peer support
Relative Experience Briefing 3 – Stories from the project

The findings of the Coram Evaluation Summary were also circulated and key outcomes were that the project had a positive effect on kinship carers’ mental well-being and self-confidence and volunteers found the experience challenging but highly rewarding.

So with these findings in mind we are about to start planning for three exciting years ahead – watch this space to find out how things develop as we watch our ‘little acorns’ grow.

Posted by Alison Blaxland

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Santa Smurf visits our volunteers!

Our volunteers have worked so hard this year to get in a position where they are able to go and meet kinship carers and give them one to one support. We wanted to give them a big thank you, so in December we organised a special Christmas party for all our volunteers and the kinship carers they are supporting.

A chance to thank all our wonderful volunteers and kinship carers

A chance to thank all our wonderful volunteers and kinship carers

We had a great day! With plenty of food and drink – and party games to keep the festivities going!

And we had a surprise guest to give out Christmas presents. Santa was too busy to make it and so we had a real live (blue) Smurf – much to the delight of the volunteers.

Santa Smurf makes a grand entrance!

Santa Smurf makes a grand entrance!

Everyone had fun and a few hours to enjoy themselves without the pressures of life in general.

So we want to give a huge THANK YOU to all our volunteers – they have given up so much time and offered their continued support to our Project and to the kinship carers they are visiting.

Posted by Santa Smurf

Santa Smurf - also known as project worker Jenny - with volunteer Jackie

Santa Smurf – also known as project worker Jenny – with volunteer Jackie

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Speaking out for prisoners’ families

A recent event organised by NEPACS – North Eastern Prison After Care Society – gave the Relative Experience Project a chance to highlight the issues kinship carers face when they step in to care for children whose parents are imprisoned.

‘Coping with Custody’ brought together experts and policy makers to look at important new research around issues for families when a parent is imprisoned.  At the conference we heard of the success of a two-year pilot Integrated Family Support Project, funded by the Big Lottery, that aims to provide a bridge between prison and the community.

The research  highlighted that it is often the families of prisoners, especially the children, who suffer the harshest impacts of imprisonment and it is often kinship carers who are working to keep families together by looking after vulnerable children, often without any recognition and support.

Helen Attewell, the Chief Executive of NEPACS, asked the Relative Experience Project if we could identify a kinship carer who had practical experience of looking after a child while their parent(s) were in prison and one of our volunteers, Christine, agreed to run a workshop at the conference.

Christine receiving her certificate from Volunteer Development Officer Vicky

Christine, pictured when she received her certificate from Vicky, Volunteer Development Officer at the project

Christine was able to confidently tell her story to 15 professionals and carers and answered an array of questions.  She made a huge impression on the group – and highlighted the issues that had affected her and her grandchild when her son was imprisoned.

The evaluation of the workshop brought some very positive comments and although Christine was nervous at first, she was able to use her very personal experience to put over the dilemmas that kinship carers face in this situation.

Christine has completed the Volunteer Befriending Training with the project and is ready to go into the community to support other kinship carers.

We are very proud of her!

Posted by Jenny Mckenna

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Summer fun with Relative Experience

While getting to know kinship carers and the children they care for, we have discovered that the vast majority have identified that they want to meet and socialise with other families in similar circumstances.

Over the summer, the workers at Relative Experience organised two fun days out at the local beach so that the adults and  children could come together to have some fun and share experiences.

A chance to relax in the sun!

A chance to relax in the sun!

The days were a great success – the children had great fun and were able to play with and get to know other children who are being brought up by a family member other than their parents. We all got involved in a ‘treasure hunt’, splashing around in the sea, building sandcastles and generally enjoying the beautiful weather and all the adventure a day by the seaside brings.

In demand: Vicky helps keep the children busy

In demand: Vicky helps keep the children busy

The days went so well that we hope to organise more ‘get togethers’ so that others can gain the peer support they need. Everyone had a great time. “It was really good to meet others in the same situation and also for the bairn to be able to meet and play with other kin-kids … it gave me a chance to socialise with others and feel less isolated,” said Nicola, a volunteer with the project.

Leena , another volunteer, agreed. “The kids were able to come out their shell, which is something they don’t normally do, but they really like the staff.”

Buried alive!

Buried alive!

“It was good meeting new people and the kids meeting other kids they can relate to because of their situation,” said Pam. “Because everyonethere was in the same situation it made it a really nice atmosphere.”

“It was a great day and there should be more opportunities like this,” said Stella. And Dahleen added: “Meeting other kinship carers who are in the same boat as you, who have similar problems, as you don’t really meet them. The bairn really enjoyed himself too!”

Posted by Jenny Mckenna, Project Officer

Posted in Big Lottery Fund, Grandparents, kinship carers, North East England, Silver Dreams, Volunteers | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Volunteers ready to support kinship carers

Things are really picking up pace at the Relative Experience Project now that the final group of volunteers have finished their training course.

Ready to go: the second group of volunteers receive their certificates from trainers Kim (left) and Vicky (right)

Ready to go: the second group of volunteers receive their certificates from trainers Kim (left) and Vicky (right)

The training has been a great success and the volunteers who have completed the course have found it really interesting and enjoyable. Feedback has been really positive – here are just a few of the comments:

“I have enjoyed this course very much and have gained a lot of knowledge from it. I have already used some of the tools in my everyday life.”

“An excellent course – and brilliant trainers.”

“I found the training sessions very good and informative. The trainers did an excellent job and we all brought new experiences to the group.”

“An excellent course. Made me very aware of the help that I could give to a kinship carer – the support we never had.”

While the second group were training, the first group of volunteers started to be matched with kinship carers across the region and first indications are that the kinship carers receiving the support are finding it to be very beneficial to them.

And as our service has become known to other agencies, referrals have been coming in steadily from other organisations in the area and we have been very busy contacting people who have identified that they need support and making sure that we match the kinship carer with the ‘right’ volunteer.

At present our volunteers are visiting 6 kinship carers while another 14 are waiting to be matched. Our target is 40 – so the next few months are going to be more hectic than ever. We may be a very small project, but it’s ‘buzzing’ with excitement as the newly trained volunteers look forward to their befriending role in the community.

Posted by Jenny Mckenna, Project Officer

Posted in Big Lottery Fund, Grandparents, kinship carers, North East England, Parenting, Silver Dreams, Volunteers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You think you know it all but you don’t”

Volunteer Pauline with Kim and Vicky.

Congratulations: Pauline receives her Certificate from trainers Kim and Vicky.

“The whole training thing has been brilliant,” said Pauline. “I haven’t done anything like this before.”

Pauline is 59 and has been a kinship carer for three and a half years to her five-year-old grandson. She is one of the first 11 volunteers to be trained as part of the Relative Experience project in the North East, funded by the Big Lottery Fund Silver Dreams Fund.

“The training was done in such a way you didn’t know you were learning, the trainers made it really fun. I learned things that I thought I knew, such as the difference between open and closed questions and the difference between sympathy and empathy. And there is a big difference. You think you know it all but you don’t.”

Not only has Pauline learned new skills but she has formed friendships with the other kinship carers along the way and felt that the group really gelled. Through the weeks of training Pauline’s confidence grew. “At the start I only spoke up when I definitely knew the answer but by the end of the training I was adding my voice and opinions to all topics and wasn’t worried whether what I said was right or wrong.”

Like the other volunteers, Pauline wants to stop new kinship carers going through the difficulties she experienced and wants to try to ensure that others have a smoother ride by signposting them to other groups and services.

All those who have been on the training are raring to go and Pauline is no exception. “Once we get started and befriending, the project will feel really worthwhile. New kinship carers think it’s going to be a bed of roses but it really isn’t,” said Pauline. But they are not to worry as she is ready to steer them through the ‘minefield’ of kinship care by signposting and telling them about other services available.

Posted by Alana Genge

Posted in Big Lottery Fund, Grandparents, kinship carers, North East England, Parenting, Silver Dreams, Volunteers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It wasn’t like being back at school at all”

I’m going to introduce you to Brenda.

Brenda, who is 61, has been married to Maurice for 43 years (congrats!) and together they have been raising their 12-year-old grandson and 10-year-old granddaughter, who both have Autistic Spectrum Disorders, for the last 10 years. But that is not all. Brenda is also one of 11 volunteers who have completed training with the Relative Experience Project,  and is now patiently waiting to be matched up to support a kinship carer in the North East.

Brenda (centre) receives her certificate from trainers Kim (left) and Vicky (right)

Brenda (centre) receives her certificate from trainers Kim (left) and Vicky (right)

In the past, Brenda had been part of a similar project working with a disabled charity and felt that she was prepared for her new role but soon realised that there was more to learn.  “The trainers were wonderful and passed on lots of knowledge and built up my confidence,” said Brenda. “There wasn’t too much paper work involved which was a big plus and we could shout out answers, go and a get a drink and even pop to the loo without asking. It wasn’t like being at school at all.”

The training consisted of four sessions over four weeks which worked around school times because of the volunteers’ other commitments. “The training works around us, there is no pressure and no-one is constantly watching the clock thinking we need to leave to get the kids.”

In the run up to the Relative Experience befriending training Brenda felt apprehensive. “I felt really nervous but those worries were for nothing as the training was relaxing and friendly, the group soon bonded because we had a mutual understanding of how difficult things can be and how important the work we will be doing with other kinship families is.”

The training not only helped Brenda prepare for her new role but she personally gained a lot from it. She found comfort sitting in a room with strangers, who later became friends, knowing that they were there for the same reason. “Relative experience is a great project,” commented Brenda. And it’s something which she feels she would have benefited from 10 years ago when she and her husband took on the care of their grandchildren.  Brenda found the experience of becoming a kinship carer a daunting time, especially with the lack of support. Her difficult experience of becoming a kinship carer is the main reason that Brenda decided to volunteer with the project and become a befriender. She wants to give kinship carers what she never had. Someone who will listen, empathise and point them in the right direction.

Posted by Alana Genge, Grandparents Plus

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Ready, steady, go!

The first group of volunteers with trainers Vicky and Kim from Family Lives

The first group of volunteers with trainers Vicky and Kim from Family Lives

Volunteers at the Relative Experience Project celebrated completing the first training course – and are raring to go!

The volunteers will support grandparents and other family members in the Newcastle and North Tyneside area who have stepped in to raise a relative’s child – with ten of those who have been trained kinship carers themselves

As the course came to an end, the group shared their thoughts. “I have really enjoyed this training and feel better prepared and more relaxed about being a befriender,” said one. “I have found the training very good, interesting and helpful,” and “I enjoyed the shared views and the friendships that radiated the room,” were among other comments fed back to trainers Kim and Vicky.

“Not only were the evaluations extremely positive but volunteers expressed their sadness at the training coming to the end, as the group had bonded extremely well,” said Kim, who developed the training for the project. “The volunteers did reflect that although they were sad the core training was at an end they were excited and eager to start the befriending albeit slightly nervous too.”

We’ll be featuring the stories of some of our volunteers over the next few months as they share their experiences of putting training into practice. So watch this space!

Posted by Alison Blaxland

 

 

 

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A Valentine’s Day event with a difference

February 14th was a day to remember in Newcastle. Along with the flowers, cards and chocolates in circulation for Valentine’s Day, the love and commitment shown by kinship carers was celebrated at the launch of the Relative Experience Project.

Listening to the presentations at the Relative Experience launch

Listening to the presentations at the Relative Experience launch

Almost 70 people gathered together at the Assembly Rooms in the city centre. Some were grandparents. Some were aunts and uncles. And some were from organisations that help support these exceptional folk. But all had one thing in common – the desire to see recognition and support for members of the wider family who have stepped in to take on the care of a relative’s child.

Chair of the event Lyn Boyd, Chief Executive of Mental Health North East, began by introducing Sam Smethers from Grandparents Plus. Sam spoke about the project and what we hope to achieve with the support of the Big Lottery Fund Silver Dreams Fund. Then Project Officer Jenny Mckenna took to the stage where she was joined by Stella and Pam, two devoted grandmothers who are both raising young grandchildren.

Project Officer Jenny interviews Pam and Stella at the launch event

Project Officer Jenny interviews Pam and Stella

The audience was visibly moved as they heard Pam and Stella’s stories while Jenny fired the questions at them. They told how one grandson is allowed to see his parents but the other, placed by a different local authority, isn’t. How Pam’s grandson made Christmas cards for his mum and dad at school, so the little lad thought he was going to be able to see them. And how they have struggled over the years to give their grandchildren the very best start in life with little support.

Kinship carer Sue talks about influencing local authority policies.

Kinship carer Sue talks about influencing local authority policies

Pam, Stella and Jenny were a hard act to follow, but fellow kinship carer Sue Robson rose to the challenge and gave a thought provoking presentation on influencing local authority policies and improving service responses to their needs. Finally, Cath McEvoy, Safeguarding Operations Manager at North Tyneside Council, spoke of their policies and practices to support kinship carers.

Comments from the kinship carers showed how much the event, and the support of a dedicated project based in Newcastle, meant to them. “After feeling invisible for years, recognition of kinship caring is a very promising prospect,” said one. “We need someone to talk to when we have low times,” said another. And for many, the opportunity to meet and share experiences with others who were in the same situation was the highlight. The best thing was “Knowing how many others have gone through the same experiences as I have,” said one kinship carer, while another said: “Knowing you’re not the only one out there”.

Take a look at the Launch Event presentations or read the Launch Event Briefing to find out more about the event and the challenges faced by kinship carers.

The morning event ended with a question and answer session with all of the event’s speakers joining the panel.

Lunch was followed by a focus group with 18 kinship carers – their comments have helped the project team in Newcastle develop and plan the training course for volunteer befrienders, which is now underway with 11 keen individuals signing up to help other kinship carers in the area. We’ll be getting them to write about their experiences in the weeks to come.

But for now, the last word on the launch has to go to kinship carers. “I found this the most interesting thing I have done in a long time. I am so glad I took time off work to attend.” While another hoped that: “Sticking together can change things for carers in the future.”

Posted by Alison Blaxland

Posted in Big Lottery Fund, Grandparents, kinship carers, North East England, Parenting, Silver Dreams, Volunteers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment