Have you heard the term ‘kinship carers?’ I must admit I hadn’t until recently. Kinship care is where a child lives full time with an adult who isn’t their parent, but is a relative – a member of their family. We’ve all known grandparents that come forward to bring up their grandchildren when it isn’t possible for the parents to do so, but are we supporting kinship carers enough? Are they our unsung heroes in the parenting world?
It’s so sad when, for one reason or another, parents aren’t able to look after their own children. There are numerous reasons for this, of course. Perhaps there are mental health issues, addiction issues or a history of domestic violence. Whatever the reason, for a grandparent to step up to care for their grandchild full time, that’s a serious commitment. And one not to take lightly.
For most grandparents, they’ve reached a point in their life when they perhaps aren’t working, are looking forward to slowing down, taking up yoga or bowls, going on extended holidays or starting a new hobby they’ve been promising themselves they would do – when they had time. Many grandparents have health issues or want to just focus on themselves after so many years of working and bringing up their own children.
But, many feel they don’t want their grandchildren ending up in care or for siblings to be split up. Many feel they have an obligation and responsibility to look after their grandchild and find themselves struggling with parental responsibilities such as sleepless nights, toddler tantrums and behavioural issues. They have to make decisions on their grandchild’s school, spare time activities, feeding and personal care as well as whether they would benefit from extra help, due to missed learning, such as employing a tutor or local group learning. It can’t be easy.
It seems many then find negotiating the ‘system’ difficult. There’s no real support for them out there, either physically or financially. And they struggle on doing the best they can to give that child the childhood they should have had. You can read about grandparent experiences following some recent BBC research here.
Should we hail these our unsung heroes? You bet we should. I’m not a grandparent: my children are adults now. Would I take a small child on full-time? That’s a difficult question to answer, but I guess I might feel the same as many of our kinship carers. If there’s a blood tie and a small person in need of love and special care then who knows?
Should we be supporting kinship carers – our unsung heroes more? Yes, as a society we should. No doubt.