Kinship carers must keep speaking out. By Julie Myers

Kinship carers must keep speaking out Julie M  

By Julie Myers
Kinship carer

Julie Myers has a Special Guardianship Order for her five year old granddaughter Rebecca. After being forced to give up work when she took on care of Rebecca, Julie has become an active campaigner on kinship care and was shortlisted for Campaigner of the Year at the Grandparents Plus Kinship Care Awards 2013.

The one thing I asked for when we took on Rebecca was to keep my job.  We really relied on my income and I loved my work, so giving it up was a last resort, but in the end I felt I had no choice. We had to re-mortgage the house we had so nearly paid off, and for the first time in our lives we found ourselves in debt. 

All we needed was a bit of support and the time to get our lives back in order and get the SGO sorted out. We were trying to give Rebecca a secure loving home but we found ourselves worrying about just keeping a roof over her head. It doesn’t make sense to say, “take on this child but we’ll take away your financial security”. It’s just so short sighted.

What’s more, when you lose your job, you lose your self esteem. You become somebody that’s not considered useful and for me that was horrendous. I felt totally demoralised. I had left school at 15 to help put my brother through college, and had only taken 8 months off work on maternity leave in 34 years. From humble beginnings I had ended up working in my local school doing something I really loved and it meant such a lot to me. The headmaster seemed to really believe in me and had suggested that I train to become a teacher.

Suddenly I had to give up my job, my security and my social life. I found we had people judging us, making us feel that we couldn’t have been good parents and that I wasn’t a good grandparent as I was upset all the time and I was struggling to make the right decisions. It’s a good job my husband and I are rock solid- we’ve been married 30 years- but if anything could have broken us it would’ve been this. I ended up having counselling. I kept having panic attacks because all I could think was if I die who’s going to look after my grandchild?

All sorts of things have happened to me in my life, but I have found this the hardest. I spent a lot of time thinking, what can I do? I wrote to the Prime Minister, I wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister, I met with local MPs and Councillors. I really wanted to get across what’s happened to us but in a constructive way, so that it might help someone else in this situation. I got to the point where I thought right, I’ve got to leave it now and move on. But then I thought no, I don’t want someone else to go through what I and my family have gone through. People like us, kinship carers, they need people to speak up. And that’s my mission now.

Without Grandparents Plus I think I would have gone completely under. It made such a difference to have someone on the end of the phone, and it was just so great to meet other people in the same situation, it made me feel so much more confident. Getting involved in the Month of Action in 2012 and going to London for the Kinship Care Summit, I felt so empowered. I felt like the person I used to be when I worked. Campaigning has helped me to regain my self esteem and feel valuable in some way. That’s so important to me and it’s a good role model for Rebecca

Last year, I agreed to tell my story at the kinship care event in Yorkshire. I was so nervous. I didn’t want to be depressing or overly critical of the professionals there, and I wanted to show how by being positive and proactive kinship carers can make a difference to our own lives and to the lives of the children we care for. The minute I started talking I felt the compassion and the good will of the people in that room, many just like me. I realised that kinship carers must keep speaking out and eventually we will be heard and given the recognition and support we deserve.

It is #timetocare about kinshipcare.

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Generation generosity: Working grandparents face growing childcare pressure by Sam Smethers

Generation generosity: Working grandparents face growing childcare pressure.

By Sam Smethers
Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus

New Ipsos Mori polling evidence from my charity Grandparents Plus, the Family and Childcare Trust and Save the Children published today provides further evidence to support the issues raised by the TUC’s Age Immaterial report.

We found that 14% or nearly 2 million grandparents have either reduced their hours, taken days off sick or given up a job to provide childcare for their grandchildren – 1.4million grandmothers and nearly half a million granddads. It’s still older women who are more than twice as likely to drop out of work or reduce their hours to provide care for their grandchildren but granddads are clearly playing a significant role too.

40% of grandparents provide childcare to help parents get to work. That’s 2.3million grandparents. 17% or 1 million people said it was because parents couldn’t afford childcare. Significantly we also found that those who provide the most care are also the ones who are most likely to provide financial support.

This suggests that we are loading up a significant minority of grandparents with both caring and financial pressure. Indeed 12% said they felt under pressure to financially support their grandchildren and just over 400,000 grandparents have reduced the amount they save for their pension to give money to grandkids.

So what does all this mean? Grandparents have always helped out with childcare – they are the single biggest source of childcare in the country – and they probably always will. True. But those aged 55-64 provide the most childcare, followed by those aged 65-74. This generation of grandparents are expected to stay in work way beyond 65. 3 in 10 also have their parents still alive. We are loading them up with caring responsibilities and telling them to work longer too.

So we want to see a strategic investment in formal childcare, to take the pressure off working grandparents as we cannot assume they will continue to fill the childcare gap. But we also know that parents usually combine formal and informal childcare, so we want to see a period of grandparental leave to give them an entitlement in their own right to some of the same workplace rights as parents.

Contrary to the prevailing debate about the ‘burden’ of the ageing population, resources of time, care and money are passed down the generations from grandparents to grandchildren far more than they are in reverse. In fact we found that grandparents are 3 times more likely to say it is their responsibility to financially support their grandchildren than the other way around. Grandparents who spend time caring for their grandchildren are also more sympathetic to public spending on benefits and services for children and young people. Caring for grandchildren may make you more sympathetic to the interests of future generations?

But the truth is not everyone has a gran and granddad to rely on. If we don’t invest in the childcare infrastructure we will see a growing inequality between those who have grandparents to fall back on and those who do not. This will mean parents, particularly mothers working below their potential, their families worse off as a result and the economy missing out on their skills and productivity.

 

 

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Relationships should be at the Heart of Well-being. By Sam Smethers

Sam Smethers photoRelationships should be at the Heart of Well-being

Sam Smethers,
Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus

The essence of modern living is quality of life.  We don’t just want to live longer, we want to live healthier, longer lives.  We don’t just want to define ourselves in terms of our work but also how we spend time with our families or our leisure time. Increasingly monetary measures simply do not fully reflect the things that really matter to us and define our lives.  The Office for National Statistics has begun to collect data on the nation’s well-being and the Commission on Well-being and Policy is proposing that government should make policy which enhances the nation’s well-being.  That would be wonderful to see. Perhaps the spare room subsidy and the imposition of zero hours jobs on the unemployed would be rather more difficult to justify? We may have a way to go on that front.

The Commission categorises drivers of well-being as either economic, social or personal. Measures include unemployment, family life, and mental health.  But are some indicators more important than others?  For example, should we consider relationships alongside other factors or should we be looking at their interconnectedness and treating relationships as the foundation stone to everything else?  Is there a hierarchy that we are missing? Do good relationships effectively mitigate against negative experiences elsewhere? Is it possible to improve the well-being of others while experiencing poor well-being yourself? For us, relationships are key and need to be given due weight in the well-being debate.

Evidence suggests that is true for the estimated 300,000 children who cannot live with their parents and who are being brought up by up to 200,000 grandparents or wider family carers. Firstly, research shows that children living with wider family generally do well, better than children in the care system.  Yet their prior adverse experiences are very similar (parental alcohol or drug misuse, abuse or neglect, disability or mental or physical ill health, imprisonment or bereavement). Their carers are likely to be living in poverty, half give up work when they take on the care of a child.  But the continuity, stability and love they offer is key and more than offsets the other negative circumstances.  Yet while the children do well, the carers’ well-being suffers.   In one study two thirds showed signs of clinical depression. Grandparents Plus’ own annual surveys regularly find 7 in 10 are stressed, depressed or isolated.  The effect of taking on the care of a child, often in difficult circumstances, affects their relationship with their partner. It displaces other relationships in the family and can cause conflict.  It often means they lose their friends as well as lose their job. Yet they remain committed to the children and so often they won’t give up even when it becomes extremely difficult for them.

There are many policy and practice changes we want to see which would give carers in this situation a better deal.  But we have to persuade others to change in order to do that.  A focus on improving well-being means we can also do something to help individuals by addressing their personal relationships and social isolation.  The Relative Experience project offers trained befriending and providing peer support, which is evaluated using self-reporting and measuring progress on a well-being scale means we can help them to change their lives.  So far we have seen carers grow in resilience, confidence and life-satisfaction as a result of providing an active listening, befriending model.  So even if nothing else changes they will be better able to cope. But also better able to take steps to make changes in their lives, such as addressing a child’s behavioural problems, asking for support or getting a job which will then improve their economic, social and personal well-being.  With a relatively small, low coast intervention we are connecting and improving personal, interpersonal and societal outcomes.  I like to call it providing emotional central heating and weather proof clothing. We haven’t managed to change the weather yet but we can at least ensure the carers we work with are better equipped for it.

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Going back to our roots? By Sam Smethers

Sam Smethers photoGoing back to our roots?

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 advice@grandparentsplus.org.uk

 

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Leave it to grandparents by Sam Smethers

Sam Smethers photoLeave it to grandparents

By Sam Smethers
Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus

So the Institute of Fiscal Studies has found that those born in the 1960s and 1970s may be no better off than their parents’ generation unless they inherit.  This comes on the day the TUC publishes a survey showing that 7 million grandparents are providing childcare – and they call for the introduction of unpaid grandparental leave – something Grandparents Plus has been calling for for some time.  Last year with Age UK we also published new data to show that grandparental childcare had increased by 35% in just one year.  So what is going on?  It appears that families are in fact becoming increasingly inter-dependent. Those with informal sources of time, care and money are at a clear advantage and this is set to play a growing part as one of the drivers of inequality in our society.  Or perhaps they are just more likely to be expected to step in, whether they want to or not?  And as the state pension age is pushed back to 68 or later, the stretched generation of grandparents is only going to grow in number – caring both up and down the generations.

The extension of the right to request flexible working to all – expected next year – will be a significant step forward and working grandparents will be one of the main beneficiaries.  But that won’t be enoough to give grandparents the kind of flexibility that a period of leave would provide.  At the moment grandparents can only get a few days emergency leave at most.  But sometiems they need more than the odd day off to provide the kind of support needed in a family crisis or in an emergency.  You can imagine the situations that arise. Mum and dad have just had a new baby and need a bit of day to day support for the first few weeks; or maybe mum has had to have an operation and can’t look after the kids for six weeks but dad can’t get the time off; or perhaps dad is struggling because he’s just split up from his partner and he has become the main carer for the children so asks his mum to help out; or perhaps mum and dad both have a drug and alcohol problem and gran and granddad get a call from children’s services at short notice to ask them to take the children or they will have to go in to care.

There’s an amendment being debated in the House of Lords this week which would address all of these situations.  It would create a period of adjustment leave for grandparents and family carers who need to step in to care for children in times of family crisis.  This makes perfect sense and would give families the breathing space they need.

So what’s grandparental care worth? Billions.  The childcare contribution that grandparents provide is worth £7.3 billion alone.  Those who step in to raise children who cannot live with their parents provide care that would cost the state £12 billion each year in foster care costs.  They then save the taxpayer millions more in averting some of the adverse outcomes that children might otherwise experience (school exclusion, unemployment, prison and so on).  It makes economic sense to support and facilitate that care, but it’s also best for children and families too.  If we don’t we risk a childcare gap emerging and it may well be parents who pay the ultimate price.

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Policy progress for kinship carers by Sam Smethers

Sometimes things happen which restore your faith in human nature. Take lib dem conference for example. No, not the Teather/Clegg/Cable headline-grabbing stuff but the policy debate that happened on Saturday afternoon. Lib dems voted overwhelmingly to back leave entitlements for kinship carers. They also called for children in kinship care to have the same access to services and support as foster carers and adoptive parents. So, thanks to former Age Concern CEO Gordon Lishman and Burnley Lib Dems this is now official party policy. What does this mean? Well, if it were to be implemented we would see kinship carers having a job to go back to if they step in to raise a child. Grandparents Plus research has found that 47% give up work when they take on the care of a child. That’s about 60,000 or so dropping out of the labour market or 9,000 each year.

We’d also see children living in kinship care having access to the same services and support as children in unrelated foster care. This is important because research shows that the needs of these two groups of children are similar, yet fostered children are far more likely to have access to services such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and also to financial support. Statutory guidance states that support should follow the needs of the child but the truth is it doesn’t.

Evidence shows that kinship carers have extensive needs themselves with 7 in 10 stressed, depressed or isolated. In our most recent survey 80% said they found raising kinship children more challenging than raising their own but just 8% had had any help with parenting or counselling.

Despite all of this however, outcomes for the majority of children in kinship care tend to be good, and certainly better than those for children in the care system. Significantly, recent research has found that it is not the type of placement that is the main factor here but the longevity of it. In other words, it’s about stability and continuity of care. So there isn’t one type of placement that is better than all others but rather it’s about finding the right permanency option for children. This would suggest that the more we can do to support those placements, perhaps offer parenting or managing parental contact workshops to kinship carers or access to counselling for bereaved children, or financial support for those who need it, we might be giving them a better chance of success. That’s got to be in the best interests of children. But also of society and the tax payer too. So a victory for common sense and a further step on the road to recognition for kinship carers at lib dem conference. And who said politicians were all the same?

Update – proposals from Labour’s Older Women’s Commission would see kinship carers entitled to unpaid adjustment leave which they could take when a child first moves in.  This would give them time to have some breathing space while they worked out what was going on and what they needed to do next.  The Commission haven’t gone as far as recommending paid leave though, we will keep working on them!

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Austerity hitting grandparents hard too – a view from the Women’s Budget Group

Austerity hitting grandparents hard too – a view from the Women’s Budget Group

By Sue Cohen

The Women’s Budget Group

The Women’s Budget Group have asked me to write this blog as I’m on their committee and they’ve just heard I have a new grandson. I’m excited as I’m off to visit my daughter and baby grandson in London. Coincidentally they live in the same road as Grandparents Plus and coincidentally as I am writing this on the train my brother, a documentary-maker phones wanting a conversation about grandparents. He’s met quite a few in the course of his latest film and he’s bowled over. Family values are as strong as ever he tells me.

I know this having been CEO for the Single Parent Action Network for over 20 years www.spanuk.org.uk – lucky to meet grandparents from all backgrounds and cultures, who are there for their families through the good and the tough times. And these are tough times of course, with government policies not matching political rhetoric on family values.  Austerity and welfare reform are creating a domino effect, impacting badly on low income family members including grandparents.

Single parent families are hardest hit by austerity measures, losing on average a twelfth of their income. To keep the bailiffs at bay, many grandparents end up supplementing the family income, as well as feeding their grandchildren when money runs out at the end of the week.

Grandparents are also being called on to provide the childcare for many of the 400,000 single parents now required to find work or face sanctions. Given most available jobs extend outside of school hours, grandparents provide the wrap-around childcare needed to cover shift work including night shifts. When grandparents should be enjoying a life with more choices they can end up with less choice than when their children were young – leading more pressurised lives with their health also under pressure, looking after grandchildren, whilst often balancing their own jobs.

It’s more manageable if grandparents live near their grandchildren. But the new bedroom tax also has an unequal effect on single parents and will make this more difficult. Many will have to pay more for spare rooms and some families face forced displacement having to move far away from grandparents in order to find cheap accommodation. Everyone in the family loses out.

In the UK the shrinking state is impacting disproportionately on women including grandmothers, who because they love their families so, will try and fill the economic, social/childcare gaps. The increasingly received wisdom is that it has to be this way, but some other EU countries have not gone down this path. Sweden has much greater investment in the social infrastructure and is performing much better than the UK economically, with all families including single parent families benefiting in the process. Germany has policies that recompense grandparents for looking after their sick grandchildren. We need to pressurise our MPs and tell them that that in some cases the EU can be a guiding light with regard to family values and that words need to be matched by policies in this country.

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You are never too old to change the world! By Nigel Priestley, Ridley & Hall Solicitors

You are never too old to change the world!

By Nigel Priestley
Senior Partner, Ridley & Hall Solicitors

I recently represented a 67 year old grandmother who had been asked to care for her two grand children in 2000. For years she had asked her local council for help caring for two very damaged children. In the end Care Proceedings were brought to take her grandchildren into care and we had a fight on our hands. The council was blind to the tremendous work she had done with the children. Her grand daughter had to be accommodated by the County Council but she knew that her grandson was best with her.

In the end the council failed and her grandson is thriving in her care. But in the course of the proceedings we discovered that the Residence Allowance she was being paid was chronically low. We challenged the council by Judicial Review and have negotiated a successful settlement.

Her challenge will potentially lead to a change in the payments for over 200 recipients of Residence Allowances in that County. Many Carers will benefit. Their world will be changed!

The story encapsulates why grandparents often need to take legal advice. They may be caring for a grand child who is the subject of care proceedings. They may have put themselves forward to care for a child in foster care and have a negative assessment that they wish to challenge. They may have had a child placed with them and either are not being paid an allowance or they are receiving only a token amount. They may have sought help and got nowhere.

For many grand parents care proceedings are a nightmare. They may find themselves forced to take a Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order – and not even be in court to argue about the type of order or the package of support.

But where they already have their grand children, they may find the Local Authority simply walks away claiming that there is a “private arrangement”.

Whatever the circumstances it’s vital that grandparents who have taken on their grandchildren need specialist legal advice. Don’t be fobbed off with solicitors on the Council’s approved list. Find a specialist!

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Relative Experience Project takes off! by Sam Smethers

Relative Experience Project takes off!

by Sam Smethers
Chief Executive, Grandparents Plus

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!

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Spotlight on the experiences of a sibling carer by Melanie Burgess

Melanie at the Cosmo awardsSpotlight on the experiences of a sibling carer

By Melanie Burgess

Melanie Burgess, 24, became a kinship carer six years ago after her mother Janet died from cancer. She has just received an award from Cosmopolitan magazine.

When I became a Kinship Carer I was at the other end of the spectrum to a Grandparent Kinship Carer. I was just 18 years old when I took on the responsibility for my younger sisters who were 12 and 15 years old at the time. I chose to do this out of love for my sisters, and this is the obvious reason why every family member or family friend decides to take it on without a hesitation, to keep their family together and to avoid them going into care.

You would think that by doing the right thing and what was necessary in such a difficult situation, in return I would  naturally obtain the support and backing I needed. However this is not the case. If I were to explain the difficulties and challenges that we faced, the list would be very long!

I had to grow up fast; I was responsible for things like our finances and some of my friends fell away because my life was so different. My confidence suffered badly but my boyfriend James and the girls supported me throughout and after counselling I began to pull myself back up.

A real difficulty was the lack of emotional support not only for my sisters, but for me too. We were three young girls grieving the loss of our mother, yet everything was such a fight to get sorted out, causing even more of a strain, at an already stressful and emotional time. Fortunately for us, our school were incredibly supportive. In fact they were the biggest support network outside of the family.

I understand that the work of social services is to look after and protect the welfare of children who are at risk, but personally we needed a different kind of help instead of the practicalities that they proceed with. I strongly believe there needs to be something put in place specifically for Kinship Carers which doesn’t place them in the same box as irresponsible parents. We need something where Kinship Care is actually recognised.

Kinship Care needs to be recognised, especially by politicians and decision makers in order for more rights to be obtained. Furthermore, as I have personally experienced, there is a lack of support when Kinship Care comes to an end.  I have given my sisters the support to succeed but what happens to me? I was unable to go to university, I have gaps in my employment and I am struggling to find a job now, not because of an inability, but because of the circumstances of the last six years. I am in no way regretful for what I have done in being a Kinship Carer, I would simply like for it not to be something that stops me succeeding in the future.

Young people should not be forced to choose between caring for the family members they love and having a bright future. We need to ensure there is the support in place to make sure they can achieve both.

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