I want to try something: –
Can I ask you to picture a child in your mind? A child that is a part of your family that you love, but not yours biologically.
Imagine you get a phone call from the local authority to ask if you can care for this child until adulthood with limited contact with their birth parents.
You have one hour to make your decision, what would you do?
For those of you that said no, picture that same child you love so dearly and say goodbye to them forever, as they are placed into stranger foster care or put up for adoption. You as a wider family member have no rights to see that child again. Would you change your mind?
For those of you that said yes or changed your mind, you have just opened yourself up to an alien world you know nothing about.
But why did you agree anyway?
I gave you a choice, or did I? Or did I hold you over an emotional barrel?
Nevertheless, you said yes. So be prepared for the biggest fight of your life to keep that child safe. Having to justify that very same choice constantly over and over again. Justifying and proving yourself to the very same local authority that placed that child in your care. Justifying to solicitors, in the hope that you won’t lose the child you have now bonded with over a legal issue. Justifying to birth parents, who now feel it is you that has taken their child away. Judges, Cafcass, Independent Reviewing Officers, a revolving door of social workers, and so many more, including people you once thought were your friends. Amongst all this, you will feel blindfolded and alone, isolated. Oh, and let’s not forget that extremely vulnerable and upset child that is stuck in the middle of all this, the one that you have just agreed to raise, not knowing where to start with the healing process or helping them grow.
Too overwhelmed to absorb any information on what little support may be on offer. Too exhausted to seek independent advice, and too skint for any kind of legal advice. Not knowing who to trust, while living in a constant, broken state of limbo.
We are silenced by the local authorities, told not to share any information before a pending court case, which in my experience can take years. We are hushed by the judgement of others and their thoughts on what might have happened within our families. We are held back through fear of hurting another family member. We spend night after night in a blind panic, with a thousand questions running through our minds at the speed of light. Will someone remove these children from me if I don’t do as they ask? How is this going to affect the children I care for but also the parents they were removed from? Will this ever be over?
And that! That is what kinship care is.
With over 180,000 kinship children in the UK, their carers are far from alone. But nevertheless, they are isolated by their new and unavoidable lifestyle.
I first became a kinship carer back in 2015, not that I ever saw myself as one back then. I didn’t know anything different. It started with that one phone call of a crisis situation within the family, shocked and stunned with the question of “can you care for this little boy?”. I trusted the system, they said they would support us, it was a temporary measure leading to a long-term solution. Little did I know that me and my partner would become the long-term solution. Initially the lack of support didn’t matter, we would make it work, it was only ever temporary after all. It wasn’t until a year on that we started to ask more pressing questions, when the short term plans we put in place were failing and putting a strain on family life but more importantly this little boy’s life. Many are willing to help in a crisis situation, but as time passes that support from other outside networks starts to diminish. That’s when we started to ask where the support was. Legally we were up a creek without a paddle, a David and Goliath situation, we admitted defeat. The constant battle was having too much of an impact on our day-to-day family life. We chose to put our energies into a very troubled little boy and not to fight the system.
I went through a spate of feeling I had let this little boy down, to the point it was eating me up inside. Frantically searching for anyone to help, phone calls and internet searches became a way of life. It was 9pm on a Wednesday night that I found Kinship Carers UK. They listened and I mean really listened. Over time they built me up piece by piece to my former self, enough to live again, even more so to help others. I now volunteer for Kinship Carers UK. Now I’m in a stronger place, I realise that the feeling of isolation can be a very dark place for someone with a kind heart, as I see daily with so many Kinship Carers going through far worse than I ever did.
We are proud to say he is now thriving, coming from a shell of a two year old boy to a very opinionated, avid reader, kind hearted, independent, and loving nine year old boy. I became a Kinship Carer to two more children in March 2019. With that education and strength I’m happy to say they are getting the vital support they need but not without a fight.
The reason I speak out is that I believe that we are not recognised for the vital role we play in the child welfare system. We are not foster carers nor prospective adopters. We haven’t had the luxury of time nor training to come to terms with raising a traumatised child. It has been proven that children in kinship care still fare better than those in stranger foster care, this is not to diminish the amazing job that foster carers do but where possible children that can remain within the family having access to the same level of support. The children of today are tomorrow’s generation, and it takes a village to raise a child.
About the author:
Donna Weaver is the proud kinship carer of three, and Director of the not-for-profit Kinship Carers UK. Donna is generating awareness and seeking change for future kinship carers. Donna is a member of the sounddelivery media spokesperson network.