As part of Kinship Care Week Kerrie, a kinship carer and family worker for a Kinship Care Team within West Lothian explains how important it is to listen to carers and reflects on her own personal kinship journey.
Our Kinship Family Support service was increased in Nov 2021 to support COVID recovery. It's a service I believe is extremely valuable for kinship families within our local authority. We engaged with our kinship carers about what supports they felt were most needed. This grew to us providing a regular support group for kinship families that created strong peer supports amongst carers, helped to sustain kinship relationships that were in crisis by providing intensive support and we have helped families to maximise their benefits by assisting them in completing applications and making them aware of any additional financial supports they may be entitled to.
My role as a kinship family support worker
I work collaboratively with many different social work teams, health professionals and schools. I would provide regular home visits and telephone calls to carers I work directly with to provide emotional support, to help them to understand trauma or by offering direct support for managing challenging behaviour using strategies of therapeutic parenting. In my role I have made many referrals to different services for families and I've been able to signpost to other services and supports available for specific challenges that they may be experiencing. I have also supported carers to share their views when they've felt anxious or intimidated by professional settings and confusing language around the different orders, arrangements and meetings. Our service is very adaptable and it changes based on the individual family and how we feel we can best support them.
I at times forget the value of simply being a listening ear to a family experiencing difficulties. As a worker I feel compelled to find a solution or to fix a situation in order to feel that I have done a good enough job. I put a lot of pressure on myself and on reflection I believe it's because when a kinship family is struggling I can relate on a personal level, I remember the feelings of helplessness and isolation. Prior to my role working to support kinship families, I was a kinship carer myself and I still am. However, when I look back at the first few years I was a kinship carer, I can recognise that some of the times I felt the most supported are when I was simply sharing how I was feeling with the child's social worker. Sometimes all I really needed was to rant, to share my concerns and to feel listened to. I try to keep this in mind more often while working with families, because sometimes situations are just difficult and there isn't a solution when you are a kinship carer. Personally, it was easier for me to share my feelings with a professional involved than my family and friends as none of them really got it.
Becoming a kinship carer
When I became a kinship carer, I spent so much time online looking for answers to questions - trying to make sense of all the terminology, the different meetings, sections and orders. It was overwhelming and confusing. I looked for local support groups and at that time, I couldn't find anything local to me. Most of the support online was also centred around grandparents who had become kinship carers and I felt I couldn't always relate to those experiences. It was an isolating time as I faced the challenges many will be familiar with after becoming a kinship carer. I had to work really hard to believe in myself and to trust that I was making the right decisions as a kinship carer. The calls to rant to the allocated social worker helped me to make sense of things by just through talking the problems out. Things got better over time, relationships healed with new clear boundaries, patience and understanding. This is the part of being a kinship carer that I found the hardest and it's the part that I believe I can understand well due to my personal experience. It's emotionally draining to work through difficult relationships with those you love. It's not something others can relate to and it's entirely unique to kinship carers.
I feel nationally we are on the right track to improving things for kinship carers and although progress can feel slow at times - when I look at what's on offer and available to families now compared to only a few years ago when I became a kinship carer, I feel reassured. I've used my own personal experiences to support kinship carers the best I can. sometimes that has been intuitive and reading between the lines because I sometimes know the emotions that aren't being said out loud. I'll continue to take guidance from kinship carers about our service and how to make it a success as I believe those are the people to guide us.