A groundbreaking project supporting grandparents and other family members who are raising a relative’s child (as ‘kinship carers’) across the north east of England was celebrated at an event in Newcastle yesterday, ahead of a new bid to expand the project across the country.

The event showcased the success of Relative Experience, a unique approach delivered by charity Grandparent Plus in partnership with Family Lives to support kinship carers across the North East, giving them access to specialist help and a befriending service to transform the experience of both carers and the children they’re raising.

The North East of England has the highest prevalence of children – around one in 70 – being raised by kinship carers in England. These carers are often facing the unexpected challenge of bringing up children without access to local authority support.

Funded by the Big Lottery Fund Silver Dreams Fund, Relative Experience aims to help families get access to the services they need, and tackle the problems of social isolation reported by kinship carers through a network of support groups.

So far, the project has helped over 400 kinship carers, with 15 support groups now available across the region.

Janice Santos has been caring for her two grandsons for over a year.  She said: ““I remember the first time me and my husband went to a Relative Experience meeting – I just broke down and cried. We had felt alone for so long and knowing we now had somewhere to turn to was a huge relief. The project has had a positive impact on my life and the support it provides should be available to all kinship carers.”

Dawn Jenkins, Relative Experience Project Manager, said: “This project has shown the huge difference tailored support can make to the lives of kinship carers and the children they’ve taken on.  People from all walks of life can end up in this position, and without any direct entitlements many don’t know where to turn.  There’s a lot more work to be done, both here in the North East and across the country.  Around 200,000 children in the UK are growing up in kinship care, in danger of becoming an invisible minority, but with the continued support for projects like these, we can make sure that doesn’t happen.”