Ignorance is Bliss

Unless you have lived with, or been, an attachment challenged child you will have great difficulty understanding the needs. This became apparent during a recent consultation with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. (CAMHS)

There are obvious signs that Jenny suffers from attachment issues and that was the decision of the Autism Panel. We don’t disagree with that decision, even though we are also pursuing a proper assessment for co-morbid autism. We believe that each condition is affecting the other. 

During the discussion with the CAMHS doctor I commented that having a full diagnosis of all conditions would help us to know the best way to handle the various challenges without creating a typical spoilt brat. 

Aha! I could almost see a flash of light in the doctor’s eyes as she grasped at the psychological straw that I inadvertently held out to her. I have read about this effect in the experiences of other parents of children with challenges. The doctor’s eyes lit up with the recognition that this must all be our fault as parents, even though we are actually substitute parents because their birth parents couldn’t do the job properly. In fact, during all the social services assessments of our parenting capabilities it became obvious that we were being allowed to care for our suffering grandchildren because we are super parents! 

The doctor took out a piece of paper and started writing. “Have you looked at The Parenting Puzzles?” she asked. 

“Well you obviously haven’t,” I thought. “If you had then you would know that it’s actually called The Parenting Puzzle – singular.” 

“There you are,” she said, handing me the piece of paper. 

I politely thanked her, knowing that the best chance of getting her cooperation was to go through the humiliation of having our parenting abilities called into question. 

I bought the book and opened it straight to the chapter on discipline. I knew what I was looking for. 

Yes! Success. The best way to deal with challenges is the time out. 

“So,” I thought. “That’s what they teach you in university. Treat like with like. If a child suffers from abandonment, abandon her again.” 

I haven’t read any more of the book. How much trust can you have in such outdated, barbaric suggestions?

Treat or Lunch

Responding to the desperate claims of needing lunch now, we find a quick serve café. The children aren’t interested in the fact that there are no tables for four people. They have to get to the counter to buy their food. 

The server looks at their sandwich, bag of popcorn, and drink and says, “Wow! You’re having a treat today.” 

Jenny (age 7) says, “It’s not a treat. It’s lunch.” The server laughs at the apparent innocence. 

“Sadly,” I said, “It’s not as funny at it seems. We are fostering them.” (We find that more people understand fostering than kinship caring.) “Before they came to us they were neglected until she was 3 years 9 months. They never knew where their next meal was coming from, or when it would be.

“Mind blowing, isn’t it.”

The server looks at me with greater respect. And a compassionate smile for the children. 

——————

Names have been changed to protect the innocent. 

The Trouble With Kinship Caring

An acquaintance of mine who goes by the name, Grandpa, wrote an interesting article entitled, The Trouble With Teachers. The article presents a realistic view of the situation of many kinship carers and, indeed, anyone who cares for children with attachment issues. I recommend that you read it, together with the linked articles, especially if you care for, or teach someone with attachment disorder.

The article set me to thinking about other issues faced by those whom I will call “professional carers,” such as kinship carers, foster carers, adopters, those caring for vulnerable adults, etc.

With this in mind, Grandpa has given me permission to use his format to start a “The Trouble With . . .” series. It may not be regular, but I will be adding to it as time goes on. In addition, Grandpa has agreed to consider writing a guest post, or two, as the occasion arises.

I am looking forward to this series, and hope you will follow along.

 

Back Seat Drivers

One of the strange sensations that you get as a kinship carer is that of having a back seat driver criticising your abilities. Maybe it happens with foster carers, too. 

Especially in the early days of your caring for these children you will have regular Core Group meetings. They may also be called Child in Need meetings in certain circumstances. But the basic format is the same. All the key people in the child’s life meet at least every six weeks to review the situation. Following their regular (every ten days) invasions of your privacy, reports are presented by the health visitor, school staff, psychologists (if involved), and finally Children’s Services. Anyone else who has significant information may also present it. So the foster or kinship carers may be asked for their input. 

However, the strange thing is that the parents also have a say. After all, they have valuable information about the children, not to mention that overcoming their issues could lead to the children being restored to their care. They can comment, ask questions, and generally make you feel like you are being cross-examined in court. The other grandparents can come along and stick their oar in, too. 

So, here you are in the meeting. The children kept you up all night. In fact, it took well over two hours to get them to bed, let alone go to sleep. Then they woke you every forty five minutes, and were wide awake an hour and a half before the alarm. 

You stumbled around, getting breakfast that they distributed all over the dining room, and you were eventually met with the demand that they wanted to be fed, even though they are quite capable of feeding themselves, and do so at school lunch, which you have to fund out of your own pocket. And you knew that you had to comply because otherwise they would have gone into school telling the teacher that you “refused to feed” them, this morning, and you would have been met by the police at picking up time. 

Then there was the fight, literally, to get them dressed and out the door to school. How they never get bruises baffles you. After all, unless you hang on tightly to their arm, digging your fingers in while they pull in the opposite direction, their defiant behaviour means that they are likely to fall and break a bone. Cue more questions by well meaning busybodies.

Finally, you rushed home to clean up the mess, change the soiled bed sheets and get then in the washing machine, before heading out the door for your 10.00 a.m. meeting at the other end of town. 

Oh, and by the way, you have to pay the travel costs to the meeting, and to contact sessions, and for family outings that you would not take if you did not have these children to look after. Yet the parents who have caused all the problems are on benefits and get their travel costs reimbursed. 

And you sit there, all eyes on you, explaining that you couldn’t take them to visit their cousins, on Saturday, because you had a problem with the car. 

And the parents launch their attack. You are not sticking to the agreement. You signed this piece of paper, agreeing to provide access to the wider family, and you failed to comply. And their children are suffering because you are not looking after them properly. You should be taking them on excursions far more often than you do. It’s wrong that they have to sit at home all weekend. 

Yes. These people whose “care” for their children was so bad that the children now live with you, (and for whom you get no funding until you have been assessed as being suitable parents), want to tell you how to raise their children. And you have to sit there and treat the parents with “the respect to which they are entitled,” while they are free to abuse you at every turn. 

Congratulations. You’ve been struck with the curse of the back seat driver. 

A Family Affair

The strange thing about kinship care is that most people do not know it exists until it is thrust upon them. Yes, we may know grandparents who look after grandchildren, perhaps due to the parents being ill, working, or otherwise unavailable. I lived with my grandparents for some time while my mother was pregnant and looking after my new born twin siblings. But these arrangements always seem temporary, somehow. 

What most of us do not expect is the formal arrangement that is overseen by Children’s Services. We do not anticipate the concept of being assessed as to our suitability to parent our own grandchildren, or other family members. Neither do we anticipate taking on responsibility for these children at a moment’s notice. 

Fostering, Adoption, and Kinship Caring

What is the difference between fostering, adoption, and kinship care? 

The main difference is in expectation. As a foster carer, or an adopter, you make a conscious decision that you want to look after children in need. You plan it. Especially when it comes to adoption, the planning is so much like giving birth that many countries even allow Adoption Leave, similar to Maternity Leave. As a foster carer, you usually have a few days’ notice before a child or children join your family. Even if you have agreed to take children in an emergency, it is still a conscious decision, and you will probably keep the spare room ready for just such an event. 

As a foster carer or adopter you will also have a considerable amount of training so that you can deal with the inevitable emergencies that will arise. You will learn the psychology of a grieving child and the effects that it can have on their behaviour. And you will be taught strategies to deal with these daily crises. 

Kinship care is very different. Although it can be planned, usually it is not. 

There you are, going about your daily activities, happily minding your own business, when your phone rings. Suddenly, unexpectedly, your whole life is turned upside down. You have to make an instant choice, with no time to consider the consequences. Will the children come to live with you? Or will they go into local authority care, whether as foster children or in a care home? Your answer, please? 

Just read that last paragraph again. In the time it takes to read the paragraph you will have to listen to a total stranger telling you some of the worst news you will ever hear and, at the same time, answer her questions while you decide the long-term future of a child or children you may barely know, but who are part of your extended family. 

Yes, you will have to make that decision in the face of some of the most distressing circumstances you could ever experience. You will have to do this without any training or preparation whatsoever. Your training will be the mistakes you made in raising your own children; mistakes that will subsequently be subjected to minute scrutiny, possibly by a do-good social worker with no children, who has had all the academic training but no experience of real parenthood. 

Why Does It Happen? 

So why might these children need your help? Let’s consider some basic possibilities, just to get a sense of the enormity of your situation. 

(From now on we will refer to grandchildren as needing your help. It could, of course, be any child or children in your extended family. But grandchildren are possibly the hardest because of your age.) 

So, here you are, busy at work, daydreaming about your next holiday which is going to happen in two weeks’ time. You and your wife are finally child free and now have a little cash to spare. You no longer have to endure the rigours of camping because that’s all you can afford. You can stay in an hotel, and have all your needs and wants catered for by someone else. You’re really looking forward to this. 

The phone rings. It could be the police or, more likely, Children’s Services. (Children’s Services is the new name for the child protection social work department.) Now, consider the possibilities. 

Your son and daughter-in-law have been involved in an accident and are incapacitated, or even dead. That would be a shock, right? While you try to absorb that shock, the social worker asks you whether you can take the children in within the next hour. 

Your single parent daughter has just been arrested for possession of a narcotic substance which caused her to become a danger to herself or others. You knew she was struggling, but you didn’t think it would come to this. 

Your depressed son has just taken his own life because your daughter-in-law has left him and no one knows where she’s gone. You knew they had problems but they seemed to be working through them. 

Your son-in-law’s computer equipment is being confiscated by the police. Let’s leave the rest to your imagination, because it would not be discussed over an open telephone call. 

Are you getting the picture? As a foster carer or an adopter you expect to take in children in these circumstances. Yes, they are still distressing, but at least you have some warning. And you have a choice. “I’m sorry but we are just about to leave for two weeks’ holiday. If you can’t find anyone by the time we get back, please call me again.” 

As a foster carer you also have a sense of professionalism in this regard. Yes, you care deeply. But you have been trained to keep a respectful distance from the issues as far as possible. Since you don’t know these children, that’s much easier to do. 

This is not going to happen when the children are family members. There is no warning. And, in all honesty, there is probably no choice, either. In the middle of the most distressing situation that you are ever likely to experience, when you would like a few weeks or even months to come to terms with your grief, you will move mountains to stop those children going into care. 

It’s what you do for family. 

Welcome

Welcome to Kinship Caring for Beginners

Welcome to Kinship Caring for Beginners.

Well, in reality, it’s not just for beginners. I hope that even experienced carers will share and benefit from this site.

So what are we aiming for, here?

As a kinship carer I was struck by how much information and support there is for foster carers and adopters; yet how little there is for kinship carers. What, you may ask, is the difference?

Put very simply, foster carers and adopters get lots of training and on-going support. Kinship carers, on the other hand, often have to fend for themselves. And they have to do it  unexpectedly and with no planning. In our case, it was a telephone call at work, one afternoon, to say that either we take the grandchildren within the next hour, or so, or they would go into care. That was our warning. And that is repeated, over and over again with kinship carers, everywhere.

So this website is dedicated to kinship carers. You are doing a fine job under very difficult conditions.

This site is for you.