A message from our Chief Executive, Lucy Peake:
At Grandparents Plus, we’re proud to work alongside thousands of kinship carers each year, united in the fight to improve support for kinship families. Since I joined Grandparents Plus four years ago, the thing that feels different now is that kinship carers are telling us they feel hope. Hope that they are being heard every time a kinship carer speaks out in the media. Hope that they are being recognised in Kinship Care Week. Hope that politicians are listening to them. Hope that the support they need is coming.
And at the heart of kinship care are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Kinship carers are the people who step forward to keep a relative or friend’s child in the family, putting their own plans on hold, perhaps forever. Kinship carers are the people who – however hard their own situation – step forward to help other carers – reaching out to find them in their community, running support groups, offering advice, friendship and support. As Janice, a kinship carer who had to fight and fight for financial support puts it, “I never want anyone to have to go through what I’ve gone through.” The determination, the pursuit of justice, the power of someone who has been knocked down by a system that doesn’t recognise and support children in kinship care. Kinship carers like Janice give us hope.
Sandra, a kinship carer from the North East gives us hope too. Ancha, one of our local workers met her and her husband Russell in the spring of 2017. They were raising her grandson Leon. He’s full of energy, charm and character, but without support, they were struggling financially, practically and emotionally. Ancha supported them and then she says “Sandra quickly wanted to immerse herself in everything connected to Grandparents Plus. She volunteered as a Kinship Champion, visiting more than 15 local schools to raise awareness and find kinship carers like her who needed support. Next, she trained as a volunteer befriender, supporting around 15 kinship carers on a one-to-one basis. Then she volunteered in the role of secretary at the Newcastle West Kinship Care Support Group, encouraging her husband Russell to take on the role of Chair.”
Sandra promoted the support group at every opportunity and to her credit, the group regularly has 15-20 kinship carers attend each session. It was down to Sandra’s efforts that there was a steady stream of letters and requests for funds going out to local businesses and grant funders. This was so successful that the group is now considering charitable status.
Sandra also built a relationship with the local MP Catherine McKinnell who attended the group, took on case work for the families and then joined the Cross-Party Kinship Care Parliamentary Taskforce chaired by Anna Turley, the former MP for Redcar, whose inspiring leadership drew together a group of MPs to act as powerful advocates in parliament for more support for kinship carers. MPs who are listening and supporting our families give us hope.
Then suddenly, at the end of October, Sandra died. As Russell and Leon reeled in shock, the support group that Sandra had nurtured rallied. Hugs, stews, cakes, days out for Leon, a whip round to help the family. Ancha encouraged Russell to accept the help, telling him “Sandra was the kind of person who always said first ‘What can I do to help?’ Now it’s everyone else’s time to help.”
A few years ago, Sandra made a film with us, with Russell and Leon, again doing anything she could to help. Russell is adamant that he would like people to see the film as it was so important to Sandra and to himself. So we’re sharing it with you now.
We remember Sandra. She gave so much to her family, to the kinship care community and to us at Grandparents Plus. She still gives us hope. That kinship carers are being heard. That politicians are listening. That kinship carers everywhere will get the support they need.