Kinship carer support groups have been growing in numbers across the UK, and during Volunteers’ Week, we wanted to share Jane’s story of how she set up a successful and growing group in Middlesbrough.
Jane Thistlethwaite lives in Middlesbrough and is a kinship carer raising two grandchildren, aged five and nine, with her husband. Jane started a local support group for kinship carers around three years ago. She started the group as there was nothing available in the area to support kinship carers, and like many others, she felt very alone. Becoming a kinship carer transforms your life, and every step of the journey is filled with complications, challenges, and a minefield of legal, emotional and financial difficulties. Facing this challenge alone is incredibly difficult. For Jane, the only solution was to bring together a network of fellow kinship carers.
The support group started with just six members but over the years it has grown and is about to reach 140 individuals; including kinship carers and the children and young people they care for. Every family in the group has a very personal story, full of sadness, tragedy, happiness, love, and frustration. When support groups come together like this and kinship carers volunteer their time to coordinate and maintain these communities, the benefit is immeasurable. Peer support is incredibly enriching, allowing people to find comfort from others who truly understand their lives and the unique issues which kinship families face. There is also a wealth of knowledge in the group and for those recently entering the world of kinship care – many difficult and hard questions can be answered through the collective minds of the group. Before lockdown the group met every Tuesday at Grove Hill community club, where they hosted meetings, bingo and tombolas, raising money for day trips for the children.
The group not only shares experience and knowledge, but also useful items, like clothing or electronic goods. Jane told us of how her daughter recently dropped a tablet breaking the screen, so another kinship carer offered to loan them a replacement until lockdown relaxes enough to get it fixed. Paying this generosity forward, Jane gave a spare TV set to another family who had theirs break. As the children grow out of clothing, the clothes are shared with families caring for smaller children. All of these things really help build a community and show another example of the strength of kinship care support groups.
Jane has worked hard over the years to keep the group active. She has also found innovative ways to try and reach out to other kinship carers who might not know there’s any support out there. She met someone from Stagecoach and managed to strike a deal so she could advertise the support groups with a printed advert on the local buses. She then received phone calls from kinship carers who saw the adverts and had no idea there was any support available. It’s acts like this and all the many other things that Jane does that saw her invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace garden the Queen. She was recognised for all her hard work in creating a thriving community of kinship carers in her area.
Jane and the group have continued to stay in touch during the COVID-19 lockdown using the strength of their private Facebook group, which has been a lifeline for many during isolation. She has also visited other kinship carers who are having a tough time and offered comfort through social distanced one-to-one support in the garden. We asked Jane what she’d say to other kinship carers thinking about starting a support group: “If you’d like to start a group and there isn’t one locally – just do it. If you have no idea what you are doing just reach out to a group in another area or contact Grandparents Plus.”
If you’d like to find out about our support groups, setting up a support group, or if there are any in your local area please head over to Support Groups.
If you’d like to find out more about volunteering opportunities please visit our Volunteer page.
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