By Sam Smethers,
Chief Executive of Grandparents Plus
Where you come from matters. You would expect a charity like ours to believe that wouldn’t you? Heritage, identity, connections, relationships – all fostered for children by strong connections with grandparents and the wider family. And so it is with our organisational history. Located in London’s East End we were founded by social entrepreneur Michael Young, co-author of Family and Kinship in East London – that seminal sociological text about the role of kinship networks in raising children in the impoverished streets of 1950s Bethnal Green. So although we are a national charity we want to strengthen our relationships and profile in our locality. Because it’s relevant for who we are and where we come from.
But there is an arguably more significant reason to do this. We provide advice, information and peer support to grandparents and family members (kinship carers) who are raising children who can no longer live with their parents. Evaluations show that the services we provide are highly effective in reducing isolation, providing practical or financial assistance. 7 in 10 Support Network members say they feel less isolated, over 9 in 10 of our advice service users say they would recommend us to someone else and 8 in 10 say they would act on the advice given. Those who need benefits advice are on average £4,600 per year better off. But most of our beneficiaries are not from our immediate locality. We aren’t reaching, in anything like the numbers we should be reaching, those who need the support and who are on our doorstep. Yet we know that Tower Hamlets is one of the most impoverished boroughs in the country. 2001 Census data suggests that rate of kinship care in the borough is particularly high, second only in London to Newham.
So it’s time to do something about it. With some targeted outreach work we are contacting local community groups and organisations to promote our work and what we do and to identify those grandparents and family carers who might need our help. We also want to use this as an opportunity to raise awareness amongst the voluntary sector and other service providers in the area about the issue of kinship care and the many challenges that children and kinship families face. Kinship carers will be battling the negative effects of issues such as parental drug and alcohol misuse, abuse or neglect, domestic violence, mental ill health, bereavement, imprisonment, disability or a range of issues. So if you are based in Tower Hamlets and in contact with families affected by any of these issues you are almost certainly going to be meeting family members who may be faced with the choice of taking on the care of a child or those who may already be in that role. If so, we can offer them some practical advice and support. Contact our advice and information service on 0300 123 7015 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org