Many Kinship Carers don’t want to share their story to protect their families and children from these sensitive issues and prevent extra stigma. Here are a few stories from some brave carers. Some names have been changed.
I am a kinship carer of 10 years and a foster carer of 2 years. The difference in the means available to these children is huge. They are all in care through no fault of their own – in my own case due to addiction – and although my daughter is now reformed the children have been with me so long they have no bond with their natural mother and treat her as a sister rather than a parent.
The difference in financial support has been very unfair. Glasgow city council paid kinship carers eighty pounds per fortnight regardless of age, from birth to sixteen years. Foster carers are paid depending on age – 0 to five years are paid five hundred and fifty pound per fortnight and this usually rises by thirty pounds with the next age group. On top of this foster carers are paid an extra four payments a year to cover birthdays holidays and Christmas, kinship carers still rely on their own resources for these events usually by the groups applying to various charities and as our own group do with events to raise funds.
As well as the financial issues there are others; I was in full time employment with a well paid career when I had to take my own children to prevent them going into care. The only help I was offered to enable me to look after the children and maintain a salary that would allow us all to live was an escort to take the children to nursery and school. This was mornings only as my employment time coincided with school and nursery time. I had to find an after-school place for them and travel from one end of the city to another after work. No other help was offered. As a foster carer the council provided a taxi service twice a day for the children in my care, as their original nursery was out-with my catchment area. The cost was thirty two pounds per day five days a week.
My foster children are also linked into other resources such as therapists, both educational and sociological, as soon as necessary. There are kinship carers within our group that can’t even get an appointment to enquire about this support. When a child is brought into foster care the carer is given a payment of one hundred pounds to cover emergency items such as clothing etc. With my kinship children it took over twelve weeks to receive child benefit and without that no other benefit such as working tax credits etc. can be paid.
Once a foster carer is approved they choose items from a list such as pram, baby items, furnishings etc. With my own children I stayed in a one bedroom flat as then that was all I required, my two grandchildren and I shared a bed till such times I could purchase suitable bedding for them, and that would have been simple but one adult and two toddlers with the best will in the world don’t fit with all the belongings children have these days into a one bedroom. I was mortgage free and then found myself at forty years of age having to upgrade to a larger property downgrade to a less paid job as the hours did not suit nursery and school hours. All this through no fault of my own or the children, but I consider myself one of the lucky ones- still of working years with a reasonable salary. Many of my group members are not so lucky.
When I got my grandson, John James, I had a phone call from Social Workers to tell me to bring clothes and a car seat to the hospital. That was me getting my grandson.
At this point, I had no help from Social Workers. I had nothing for the baby. I was going to go on holiday, so then I couldn’t, and I had to use the holiday money to buy a pram and everything you need for a baby. As his mother signed him voluntarily to me, I had nothing but hassle between her and Social Workers.
John James was five days old, and as I don’t have a drug user in my family, I didn’t understand anything about it. My grandson was one of the longest babies on detox – it was 6 months. I had to take him to hospital every Friday morning for him to be examined, and then go back at 5 o’clock for his medication. I was 62 at this time and I had to pay for taxis, back and forward myself. I couldn’t afford it as I was getting pension credit. I got no help from Social Work. I then told the hospital that it was unsuitable for me to go to these twice a week. They agreed for me to get medication in the morning.
As he was on withdrawal for so long, he was a very difficult baby. He took a hernia due to cramps; still no help from anywhere. I heard about kinship carers, and I have been going there since my grandson was 6 weeks old. I then felt someone was listening to me, whereas before no one did. Being part of kinship carers lifted my spirits, as I walked floors 24-7. I knew then I wasn’t on my own.
When I applied for the residency order, I had to lay out £3000. I’ve laid out about £400 … I’ve had to stop because financially I couldn’t afford it. My life became hell between panels and meetings. As his mother came from Kilsyth, I had to make my own way to Cumbernauld Social Work. That went on for 2 years. I have now got Parental Rights and residency. I was also granted the child permanently ‘till he’s an adult, and as I don’t need a Social Worker, I don’t have any more panels either. That was my only experience with Social Workers, as I had 6 children of my own. I was a single parent. I had never needed a Social Worker in my life.
“They are saying it’s just a behavioural problem,
but I still say it’s something deeper”
Jackie has looked after her grandson, aged 5, since he was 5 days old. He has never had an overnight stay with his biological mother in this period. Her grandson suffered 10 months withdrawal from methadone after birth – one of the longest methadone withdrawals recorded in Scotland.
She has a residency order and gets family allowance and child tax credits. She fought for a year to get the £40/week kinship allowance, as social work claimed that her grandson lived with his mother in another local authority. She has never had any social work visits despite informing social work that she cares for the child.
When her grandson started at nursery he started showing behavioural problems such as tempers and aggression towards teachers. The nursery didn’t offer any psychological services so she took him to the Notre Dame Centre in Glasgow. They spent 6 weeks with him and concluded that his problems are long term and serious, but they don’t have the funding to continue working with him.
His new school are giving him one to one teaching and have referred him to the a centre dealing with behavioural issues. Both the centre and the school say his problems are purely behavioural and have not asked about his childhood, his kinship status or pre-natal and early years traumas. Jackie feels he has deeper issues.
“I’ve got a new social worker. She came out last week and it was just a nightmare. They’re taking my respite.. She was asking about the £40 and making out I spent it on carpets!… She said ‘don’t ask us for anything’.”
Mary is 57. She looks after two grandchildren aged 6 and 7. They were taken to her house as babies by social work as the only other option was putting them into care. A children’s panel was held at which it was agreed that she would be allowed one day per week respite due to her own mental health problems. She received a Supervision order for both children and £40/week kinship allowance for both. Mary and the children attend a children’s panel every year.
The mother of the children has slight learning difficulties and had been suffering sexual abuse from her partner and his father. The younger of the children shows strong behavioural problems, regularly destroying furniture in the house. The children’s panel have never recommended any support with these issues. When he started school she was unable to get his problems recognised by teachers and eventually employed the use of an advocate from Who Cares? Scotland to try to get the help he needed. She has never been able to get psychological support for the children except a six week treatment at the Notre Dame Centre which she arranged herself. After waiting a whole year for an appointment, her doctor recently recommended psychological help for the youngest child. Since then he has exhibited inappropriate sexual behaviour at school. He was put on child protection and referred to a number of services.
Mary has had the same social worker for 5 years and developed a good relationship with her. She has very recently been appointed a new social worker and after the first visit has become very stressed about the change. She is worried that the new social worker wants to put the children into foster care. She described being accused of ‘farming the children out’ to relatives on occasions where she’d been in hospital with a heart attack, or unable to take them for a night or two. The social worker told her that her weekly respite would be replaced with bi-weekly sessions and that she wouldn’t be able to get money for train fares or other expenses. Mary said;
“I just feel as if this new social worker is going to cut me off from everything. I get on with anybody, I do.. but I feel as if she was looking down at me, as if I was asking for everything. I got the impression she didn’t think I was fit to look after them.”
“I just wish (the damage) could have been picked up on when he was younger – because if I noticed it, nursery must have noticed it as well. I said ‘I definitely think there’s something the matter with him’, and they just said. ‘he’s OK’. I sometimes think they don’t know as much as what we know.”
Alice looks after three grandchildren aged 8, 17 and 18. She took the eldest two from their home when they were 3 and 4 due to parental drug misuse and called social work to tell them. They were helpful and she quickly got a Residency Order.
Though the older two are well settled, the 8 year old has had more difficulty. He was brought to her door by social workers at 2 days old. It took her months to get a Residency Order as his mother tried to block her from caring for him. After a year he was taken off the Child Protection Register but she was not made aware of this. One day his mother turned up at the house and shouted abuse outside. Alice was desperate and called social work for help but was told that he had been taken off the register as he was in a stable home and they couldn’t help. Luckily her previous social worker stepped in of her own volition.
Alice says; “I knew he had issues since he was tiny because he’s ripping holes in my walls, my wallpaper and all that carry on”. Like other children born to a drug addicted mother he is very small for his age, and appears far behind in his development. Despite making her concerns clear to the nursery he was never referred to any psychological or other services. His primary school have diagnosed him as having serious ADHD and referred him to a child psychologist. The psychologist referred him to CAMHS, a psychological service at the local health centre. She described their service as ‘a bit lacking’, as, when the school arranged a meeting with the head-teacher, a psychologist and a CAMHS rep, they didn’t turn up, and she had to visit them several times to find out what progress there was with his case.
“Social work came once and gave me £30 for a blow up bed for Tom as he’d nowhere to sleep. I’d have liked more involvement.”
Josie looks after two grandchildren aged 6 and 9. The youngest (Tom) is autistic and does not bond well with his mother who is in and out of rehabilitation. He has been on an emergency placement order with his grandmother (ie temporary arrangement) for the last year, which gives her very little freedom to make decisions about him. The older grandchild has been with her permanently since he was 3 months old. She took him from an unsafe household and rang social work to inform them. They have never paid her a visit to check that he is OK. It took her 7 months to get a residency order for him. Health visitors, doctors nursery, and school teachers have never asked about his background or kinship status. In the year that she’s looked after Tom social work have only visited once. They gave her £30 for a blow up bed as he had nowhere to sleep.
“He spat on the floor in school and they phoned the social work!”
Nadine looks after two grandchildren aged 5 and 14. She removed the eldest from an unsafe situation and informed social work who agreed, but she never received a visit from them. She obtained a Residency Order and is now happy without social work involvement.
The youngest was brought to her by the police when he was a baby. He is beginning to show serious behavioural problems and delayed development. When he was at nursery and acted up by pulling the teacher’s hair and spitting, the teachers informed social work instead of calling his grandmother. They were aware that he stayed with his grandmother but never asked about his background or any early life traumas he may have suffered. Another time she was asked to collect him 15 minutes early from school. It was an expensive taxi ride to get there. Nadine says she feels intimidated talking to the teachers and always feels she is being blamed for his behavioural problems.
Eventually the nursery called a speech therapist, a social worker, a child psychologist and a health visitor to see him. None of them asked about or recognised his kinship status and possible experiences of trauma and diagnosed him as having normal behavioural problems.
“Social work should be enlightened to Kinship issues, but they never warned me what to expect. It was the head-teacher at nursery who told me about Kinship.”
Sophie was given care of her granddaughter by social work when she was 6 months old, after she informed them that her mother was using heroin. They assessed her as a suitable carer but it took her a whole year to get a Residency Order. Despite social work involvement in this period they never warned her about the common behavioural and development problems of kinship children, or the difficulties she was likely to experience as a carer. It was only when her granddaughter started nursery and appeared to have problems with balance that the head-teacher recognised her as a kinship child and pointed Sophie towards a local kinship support group.
The nursery referred her granddaughter for a test but it took 8 months to get the appointment by which time she had started school. The doctor could not identify a problem and diagnosed her as just clumsy. She continues to fall over regularly in school, sometimes hitting her head. The school are aware of her kinship background but have never suggested support services or acknowledged the likelihood that she is predisposed to have certain problems.
“One of the social workers said to a woman in our group: ‘Oh he’s just a kinship kid’, meaning he’s not entitled to anything like foster carers get. I feel that a lot of social workers think it is the grandparents fault anyway and they should just deal with it.”
Margaret takes care of three of her grandchildren aged 19, 14 and 12. The first five years of kinship care were a chronic struggle as she had to give up her job and received no support from any services. After going through a court battle for the eldest one she felt she couldn’t do the same for the other two so has only residential rights for them. Children’s panels deemed the children to be well looked after and they were discontinued. She only gets a social work check up once a year and would love more support.
She feels that social work support is very lacking. Recently she wanted to attend a weekend conference on kinship care and asked her social worker for respite over a month in advance. She rang repeatedly and was told that it was still uncertain. A few days before the event she gave up and rang the respite service herself, who told her that he social worker had only just phoned them that day. One of the children urgently needs psychological help and she doesn’t know where to turn and has no faith that social work will refer her to the right services. School teachers don’t understand the effects of her childhood trauma and label her issues as standard behavioural problems.
She finds the differences in support offered to foster carers and kinship carers to be very unfair and points out that even with recent cutbacks foster carers get 35 days respite a year. It is her opinion that many social workers actually discriminate against kinship carers believing that their situation is their fault.
My name is Janice. I am a kinship carer. My Grandson was 3 months old when I got him and his mum asked me to keep him for a weekend and never came back until 2 weeks later with the police, and I said I wouldn’t give her the baby back. I explained to the police what had happened, they said there’s nothing they could do about it as she’s the mother.
That day I contacted our social worker and asked her what she thought about the situation. She thought his mother was doing fine and I explained the situation to her. She said she’d investigate the matter. Two days later I got a call from the child’s mum asking if I could come and pick him up as they had no nappies, baby milk, nothing except the clothes he had on. I phoned social work and told them the situation and was told someone would go there and see what’s going on and I told her I’d go down too.
When I got there she was at a friend’s house. My grandson was soaking wet, hungry and dirty. I took the boy with me and phoned social work to tell them. That’s the last I have ever heard from social work and my grandson is 8 now. When he was two I was still trying to claim his benefit for him. They still hadn’t stopped the mother’s payments and two people can’t claim for one child. I went to my lawyer who advised me to go for a place of safety order which I did. His mum was there, she wanted visiting rights. She got 4 hours a week. She turned up twice then came to court and said she didn’t want to fight me anymore. I told her ‘it’s not a fight, it’s your son’s life we are talking about’.
I got the place of safety order. Since I had him from 3 months there’s never been any social work input. If I was a foster carer or adoptive parent I would get paid a lot more- to be able to take him on holiday, help with clothes, shoes, jackets, help with almost anything I needed. But because I am a kinship carer I only get his benefit. I live on the poverty line.
I think the system is wrong as I know I do a much better job than any foster carer or adoptive parent because it’s my flesh and blood, and it must be better for the child to be kept in a family environment than go through the system. It makes you wonder what social work get paid for. Look at the children who have slipped the net.