Our lives changed in an instant when we went to check on our daughter and four-year-old granddaughter at their home and we discovered that our daughter was very unwell. We needed to take our granddaughter home with us and sadly she was never to return the house that had been her home.
Like many Kinship Carers our crisis happened because of substance misuse and mental health issues and all the horrors that come with them. Ours has been a double crisis, not only bringing up our grandchild but also getting the help our daughter desperately needs, often in emergency, life threatening situations.
We provided 24/7 supervision for our daughter and granddaughter when she was born – I had to take 6 months off work or she would be taken into foster care. We eventually settled them into their own home and a new life and we thought our crisis was over.
On the day our granddaughter came to live with us for good, we realised our daughter had slowly declined back into substance misuse. Two days later she was hospitalized with pneumonia and blood clots, and she’s been in and out of hospital many times since for both her physical and mental health.
We had voluntarily taken on the responsibility of our granddaughter’s care, with our daughters’ permission, so for a few months it was unclear if we would have any entitlement to financial support. We are self-employed artists working from home and we were trying to grow our business into something viable. At the same time there was confusion over the allocation of a social worker to take on our case and a few workers came and went bringing conflicting information. It was an extremely anxious time.
Our focus was on our granddaughter: meetings, workers visiting us, catching up with medical and educational issues and giving her the childhood she deserved. We also had my youngest daughter living with us, who was 15 years old. Two children at each end of the spectrum and us striving to be the best parents we possibly could while living through never-ending crisis.
It is a huge emotional strain bringing up a child in a healthy happy environment when your adult child is desperately ill, vulnerable and suffering abuse. We had to manage this carefully, keeping family life and home a safe haven from the chaos.
We were terrified that we would lose our granddaughter and our daughter forever. We understood social services’ assessment of us as suitable guardians was crucial, and only a court order granting us a Special Guardianship Order could bring any relief from that fear. But financial insecurity and worry about keeping the roof over our head was a problem that clear legislation and a fair support package could have alleviated.
Then amongst the uncertainty we were allocated a reliable social worker who swiftly moved court proceedings forward. The assessment was an emotional journey in itself – examining our lifetime shortfalls at a time when we were striving to be superhuman parents. Thankfully we were recommended as guardians. We were fortunate compared to most, as after only 10 months we had a special guardianship order and an allowance.
Even if it had happened under the best possible circumstances, without financial strain and with support, at the centre of this we still had a child taken from her parents, struggling emotionally, with heart wrenching questions, who loves and misses her parents. It takes hard work, love and creative parenting to establish a routine and address behaviours connected to this. I had already spent 30 years parenting and it is exhausting keeping up with the pace required to work and care for a family with a young child. We were suddenly parents again and our grandparent role was lost. My husband and I had only been together 5 years. He had taken on a stepfather and Grandparent role and now our relationship required an additional commitment. We both had a barrage of emotions to process while keeping everything running smoothly to provide the home our children deserve.
Our roller coaster journey has also been a joy, we have had the privilege of parenting a wonderful child and we have been spared the broken hearts we’d have had if had we had lost her. We’ve visited places, laughed and played together, supported her to learn and been full of pride at her outstanding achievements.
Our future financially is unsure. We do not know how much longer we will continue to receive our guardian’s allowance and have received conflicting information regarding this from professionals and other kinship carers. Some families receive it until their child is 18 and some only for two years. For us it is a means tested allowance with no guarantee from one year to the next.
We also have difficult conversations ahead. Questions our granddaughter will inevitably ask and situations she will begin to understand. I can’t help worrying how understanding fully will affect her.
Positives experiences have been crucial to us on our journey – the social worker who clearly cared about the best interests of our granddaughter and supported us to get help for our daughter. The drug worker at NRP who gave proactive support and saved our daughter from certain death. The crucial support we received from adult services for our daughter. The support and advice of Grandparents Plus and their practical help with grants for a bed and clothing. They were all stepping stones during the ongoing crisis.
Our granddaughter is thriving and achieving at an outstanding standard after needing interventions across the board. She is a healthy, happy girl, an exceptional reader and we couldn’t imagine life without her. Her mam is eventually beginning to make improvements and is not currently in crisis. My youngest daughter is excelling at college and has a wonderful career mapped out. Hopefully we will receive some support on the rest of our journey. Whatever the future holds our determination and love are strong and the most important thing to us is that we remain together.