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.