When I first began to volunteer for Grandparents Plus I was horrified to hear of the difficulties facing many kinship families. I had retired from teaching the year before and thought of all the children I had taught who had been looked after by relatives. I wished that I had had a deeper understanding of the issues affecting them and wanted to do something to help.
I’ve had a few volunteering roles and at the moment I support kinship carers with grant applications. Every single kinship carer I have talked to has put their own life on hold, giving up jobs or any dreams of retirement that they may have had, opening their homes and hearts to children who sometimes have complex emotional and behavioural difficulties, whilst often having health issues of their own. It is heart-breaking to hear that, in already dreadful situations, children are going without the basic essentials that could have such a positive impact on their lives. That is why I volunteer for Grandparents Plus, often the only organisation supporting these families.
I was very nervous the first time I phoned a kinship carer and I wasn’t entirely at ease asking for personal and sensitive information. I wasn’t sure that it would be possible to establish a connection with someone over the phone but I learned a lot from that first call and tried again. I became more confident, devised an application form that covered all the questions that I needed to ask, and I find that, sometimes with a little prompting, most people are relieved to be able to talk to someone – it means a lot that they are being listened to.
One case that stands out is a lady who was looking after her ex-husband’s grandchildren, both of whom had severe trauma and attachment disorders. She had a very unusual request for Equestrian Therapy for one of them and I helped her to get a grant to fund the therapy. This was a mutually beneficial arrangement for both a rescue pony and a very troubled child.
That phone call to say that a grant has been awarded is a wonderful moment and makes it all worthwhile. One lady said that nobody had ever done anything for her before, another said she felt that someone had ‘waved a magic wand..’ and one lady was so excited about a fridge freezer being delivered because she could buy her granddaughter some ice lollies in a very hot spell of weather! Credit to the fantastic charities that help out above and beyond too, especially the wonderful people at Buttle Trust!
I am happy to have been able to help. Kinship carers do a fantastic job and get very little recognition. Many don’t know where to turn, sometimes haven’t even heard of the term ‘kinship care’ and have no idea that there is support available. I felt very strongly that Kinship Carers are largely overlooked and receive very little guidance, despite selflessly striving to bring up children in very challenging circumstances, whilst also struggling financially.
I am lucky to have two happy, healthy grandsons who both have great parents. Not everyone is so fortunate and it is important to me that I do something to try and put that right while I am in a position to do so, even in a small way. Being a grants volunteer is something that I can do whenever I have some spare time, whether that is five minutes to reply to emails, or a couple of hours to complete an application so it fits around my busy life too.