My name is Julie and my husband and I live in a town outside Swansea, South Wales and we are kinship carers to our three grandchildren aged 10, 9 and 6. They have been living with us for five years. Only the youngest child is my natural granddaughter, the eldest two children are from their mother’s previous relationship but we consider them our grandchildren, especially when the choice was made for them to live with us. Though, I hardly call it a choice when the alternative for the children was foster care.
All three came to live with us in March 2010 following years of neglect. Both parents were taking drugs, had mental health issues and my son was also a victim of domestic abuse. All of which the children witnessed and as a result they all have severe emotional and behavioural issues. Of course, at that time, we were oblivious to the trials we were about to face. Sometimes I wonder whether the social workers should have informed us about the consequences of neglect, and the trials that were to come, however looking back, it was enough to cope with the upheaval in our lives.
Like most, we are in debt. Both my husband and I are in good but demanding jobs, but we now work part-time to meet the children’s needs. This in turn makes us worry for the future, especially our pensions. We’ve also lost thousands of pounds in furniture and other material items that we had to get rid of when the children moved in. Though there is absolutely no contest between furniture and my grandchildren!
Over the past five years we’ve faced so many trials. They have included managing contact with all three families in the face of aggression from some, the children’s mental health issues (we feel we’ve had a crash course in child psychology and attachment) my sons mental health issues, our constant battle with local schools to try and get them to understand children’s mental health, and throughout this, trying to keep our marriage together.
Saying all of that, I know that compared to some kinship carers, we have been lucky. Call it a sixth sense, but we knew we were going to have issues with the children so we sought advice very early on from Grandparents Plus. We also found The Family Rights Group really useful and were blessed with two very good social workers and children’s court guardian. As a result, when we were awarded Special Guardianship, we were able to ensure the court order contained on-going help and support that we were going to need in the long-term. This not only included financial support but the opportunity to attend training courses and ensured we had on-going support of a family therapist, on whom we can off-load our latest issues with the children, and our personal struggles to keep sane in the turmoil.
As great as that backing is, it can never prepare you for the turmoil, grief and stress that you face. However, throughout it all we try to find the positives. It has been wonderful and fulfilling to be able to instil in our eldest a love of reading, watch our middle child learn to accept a hug and feel loved, and see the youngest form a bond with us as parents. Plus as a result we are more in tune with the pop scene than any fifty something’s need to be.
It has been, and continues to be a huge learning curve for us and if we can only impart small words of wisdom, it would be to seek advice early. There are excellent resources on the internet. Join a support group or ring the Grandparents Plus Advice and Information line on 0300 123 7015. If we just relied on others to provide information we would, without doubt, be far worse off now.