We know that becoming a kinship carer rarely happens without a range of emotions coming into play – concern for the child’s wellbeing, your own feelings about how they have come into your care, and most of all a fierce, protective love for the child.
It’s understandable that it can be hard to know where to start when trying to explain to children what has happened, what it means for them, and their understanding of their family and their future.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Every family and every child is unique, however there are some things that might support you.
Below are some organisations that we’d recommend, as well as lots of advice from other kinship carers.
Family Lives – offer a range of support to families.
Read our guide on supporting young people with developmental trauma.
Advice from kinship carers
We asked our community of kinship carers across the country how they help their children to understand their family and talk about growing up in kinship care. Here is a summary of the responses we received;
Be open and honest (at an age appropriate level)
“I have waited for questions from my grandson and then I answer these in a generally honest way that is sensitive to their age/understanding of their feelings.”
“Be honest with them, telling them as much as they can understand depending on their age. Don’t criticise their parents, not easy! Explain that they are loved but sometimes adults don’t do the right thing. None of it is their fault!”
“Take time, answer their questions in a way that will ensure that they won’t feel that they’re the problem in any way. Consider their age and level of understanding. Put them at the centre.”
My little one went from ‘Nenny’ to ‘Mummy’ when he went from nursery to school and I just went with it, but explain that he has two mummies, a tummy mummy and this mummy.
Answer questions calmly and simply
“I started by explaining that our situation was not uncommon, and that families come in many different forms.”
Keep it Blame Free
“We were determined that the two children should have an un-biased view of their parents until they were grown up enough to form a view for themselves. Although it caused a lot of emotional abuse and fall-out within the family, the children are glad we did it now, as now they have made up their own minds about their parents, and that is crucial in a child’s development.”
“Say things like ‘mummy wasn’t able to or couldn’t look after you’ rather than ‘chose not to make the right choices’. Don’t say mummy was ‘too poorly’ because so many children seem to panic that that means their kinship carer is going to be taken away from them if they hear that they are poorly in any way.”
Say everything from a position of love
“We celebrate every anniversary of the child coming to live with us, we celebrate the day the judge gave us the special guardianship order and we make sure she knows we chose her and she chose us (despite only being 3 at the time). We celebrate all the changes rather than feel angry about it all. Of course it isn’t what my husband and I had planned but she enriches our life in ways we couldn’t have imagined so that’s cause for celebration.”
Keep records of what happened for them to look at as they get older
“I printed a book on Snapfish as the story of how they came to live with granny and grandma. From when they were born to the day they arrived. I did not go into too much detail but explained about the court process and the judge’s decision.”
“We kept all the court papers and anything to do with it, like correspondence from official people. The children (now adults) have access to this record anytime they want to read it. One adult has read it – the other has not. We have never hidden what happened and never will.”
Get the family to help do a family history together (or a family tree)
“I did a life story book of where she was born, when, photos of when she was born, photos of her birth parents and a birth family tree. I then included a family tree of now with her new cousins and photos so she has comparisons in it. She can look at it whenever she wants to.”
Let the child lead in what they decide to call you and their parents.
“My little one went from ‘Nenny’ to ‘Mummy’ when he went from nursery to school and I just went with it, but explain that he has two mummies, a tummy mummy and this mummy.”
“Let them lead where they want the conversation to go, and what they want to know.”
Try a version of these four questions:
“She lives with us but her mother has kept the child’s siblings. This is a very difficult situation for anyone to understand or explain. The advice I was given was this – ask and answer four questions:
- Who was worried? – Name all the family, friends, social workers, school teachers, anyone who had concerns.
- What were they worried about? – Child being left unattended, child being under nourished, child might get hurt etc.
- What happened? – Social services took you to live with us. We went through an assessment, any contact arrangements that were put in place in the early days etc.
- What’s happening now? – You are living in your forever home with us, you go to school, you see mummy or daddy X times a year or you don’t see them at all now.
Those four questions were invaluable to us as they don’t directly point blame but the child/children will read more into them as they get older. It was so much easier than talking about a mother who neglected one of her children before abandoning her – easier for us as it took the emotion out of it. Easier for the child as it explains why their home/carer had to be changed without outright blaming a parent they love.”
“Ensure you have access to therapy/counselling of your own so that you don’t explode around the children. Or a neutral person to vent to about the heartache and frustrations of kinship care so contact and special occasions aren’t discussed around the child – they pick up on our disappointment and sadness and anxiety in the lead up and aftermath too and on any conflicts during negotiating it all.”
Our Advice Service
Please remember you can contact our advice service here for more information.