Kinship carers must keep speaking out
By Julie Myers
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.