We have been overwhelmed by the stories you have been telling us since the lockdown began and humbled by the strength kinship carers are showing in the face of incredible challenges. With food shortages, overcrowding, homeschooling children who need routine and stability, health conditions and real, raw fear about who will look after the children if you fall ill or die – this crisis is affecting many of you in the worst possible ways.
Over the coming weeks we are going to share with you some of the stories we are hearing and some of the positive things that are happening too.
Concerns from kinship carers
Paula told us how she had some heart-wrenching conversations with her two grandsons when they both had coronavirus: “Lenny asked me ‘mummy am I gonna die because I need to talk to Tommy (brother) and tell him that if I die, he has to look after you in your old age’ I just wanted to cry”. Thankfully “The boys are feeling better now but in a dark time the calls with Maxine, my Grandparents Plus Project worker, lifted my spirits. I really appreciated her keeping in touch”.
Shirelle tells us: “I have a spinal cord injury amongst other health conditions and if I get it (coronavirus) I fear the worst for my own children and my sister’s children who also live with me. There are 10 of us in this household so it is not going to be easy, and my partner will still have to go out to get supplies.”
Kim says: “Lots of things are worrying me, income, food but most importantly my granddaughter really needs to have a structure in place and struggles a lot when she doesn’t know what is happening. Her school is closed, all extra activities stopped and her therapy has been stopped until further notice”.
And April speaks for many of you when she simply says: “If either my husband and I or both become unwell what would happen to our 11-year-old granddaughter who has learning problems?”
So what are we doing?
Our project workers have been quick to adapt the support they offer to kinship carers with regular phone calls, and staying connected through WhatsApp groups. Video calling is another way of keeping the essential support networks running. Technology can be a godsend for many people during lockdown – being able to talk to and see family and friends can help you feel way less isolated – but getting to grips with video calling, and messaging at speed can be really challenging. Rachael, our project worker for the Kirklees area has been working with her group to get to grips with setting up meetings on video conference.
Their first successful Zoom meeting in Kirklees had 10 people join during the hour. They were able to chat with the kids, and some of the older teenagers enjoyed being in on the action too. They sent in a picture to celebrate their first virtual meeting. Here are some tips and guidance on using technology to stay connected which you might find helpful
We have also been approached by more local authorities keen for our experienced project and advice workers to offer support to kinship carers in their areas – so keep an eye on announcements about new areas we will be working in.
Our tireless advice team – Kathy, Nicola, Sabina and Nazma are pulling out the stops to help you by answering your calls and emails as quickly as they can. They’ve seen a 63% increase in enquiries this March compared to last year. 21% of these were specifically about coronavirus-related issues. They’ve also been working behind the scenes alongside grant givers like the Buttle Trust to unlock grants for some of the smaller things that make such a big difference to people’s lives.
This week, Gerald was struggling with home schooling his grandson because he didn’t have a laptop, so Nicola applied for a grant and within a week he received a laptop and printer to help him keep up with his school work. You can read Gerald’s story here.
To answer as many calls as possible, some of our part-time advice workers have increased their hours and are working in evenings (Tuesday and Thursdays 8-9 pm) to help people who find it difficult to call during the day. If you need advice, please do get in touch with them here.
Our CEO, Lucy is channeling a steady stream of your experiences directly to the government department responsible for kinship care – the Department for Education – and is pushing for clarity of information and funding for better support. There have already been some ‘wins’ with an extension to the adoption support fund and clearer advice on a range of topics which we are updating on our website as they come in. But we think more needs to be done by the Department, and rest assured that we are working hard to make sure that it is.
Stay safe everyone and please keep your stories coming in so we can continue to shine a light on your experiences and push for change. To ‘tell your story’ please email firstname.lastname@example.org.