Episode 2: "A sigh of relief"

In this episode of Kinship Together we speak to Graham, who has looked after two of his grandchildren for 14 years. He shares his experience of being a kinship peer support group leader and running a space for carers to communicate online through Facebook.

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In this episode, we speak to Graham who has been a kinship carer to two of his grandchildren for around 14 years. He’s a single grandparent and the two children he cares for are now teenagers. Graham talks about how when he became a kinship carer, he was able to find the information and help he needed through attending a peer support group. He’s since gone on to offer the same support to many other kinship carers by running a group himself, which includes in-person meetings and an online Facebook community.

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The text below is a direct transcription of this episode of the Kinship Together podcast.

Welcome to Kinship Together, a podcast that shares stories, experiences, and advice for kinship carers. Brought to you by Kinship, the charity for kinship carers in England and Wales.

In this series, you’ll find out what it means to be a kinship carer from people who are going through the experience. This includes the highs and lows, and the everyday challenges. All the kinship carers in this series have found that meeting other kinship carers has brought them connection, friendships and emotional support.

We’ll hear why peer support and volunteering have brought such meaning and sense of belonging to our guests. Whether that be attending local groups, talking together on the phone or connecting online, there is great power in facing challenges together. And that’s one of the most important things that kinship carers tell us they need – emotional support and the feeling that you’re not alone. We’ll also ask every guest to share their moments of joy as a kinship carer, those things that make it all worthwhile. Hopefully you’ll pick out some useful advice along the way too.

In this episode, we speak to Graham who has been a kinship carer for around 14 years with the two children he cares for, now teenagers.

Graham is a single grandparent who was able to find the information and help he needed through attending a peer support group. He’s since gone on to offer the same support for many other kinship carers by running a group himself which includes in-person meetings and an online Facebook community. You can learn more about Kinship’s support groups at compass.kinship.org.uk.

A note before we start, this episode includes references to drugs, alcohol and challenges with mental health.

Okay. Here’s Graham story.

Iain Broome: Thanks for joining us today Graham, really appreciate it. I wonder if we could start by learning a bit more about you and the children you care for, and your current situation.

Graham: Yeah, my name’s Graham and I took on my two grandsons when they was much younger. The youngest was roughly about sixteen-month-old, the eldest was five years old when I was asked to take them in through the parents having drug and alcohol issues in their life. So roughly I’ve had them about 14 years now. The eldest being 19 and the youngest being 16. The boys are fine but they’re both carrying trauma and mental health issues which is quite challenging.

Iain Broome: And what was it like when you first became a kinship carer? I guess it’s not something you necessarily expected.

Graham: No, it wasn’t. It was late one afternoon I got a telephone call from the birth parent, mother, which is my daughter telling me that the local authority were there to take them away. She asked me for my help and I just rushed in the car to go and get them as you do, you know, just to try and alleviate the situation of them going into care.

Iain Broome: In terms of support for yourself, how did you first find out about peer support groups and what’s your involvement?

Graham: When it first happened, I picked the children up and I was expecting a call from the local authorities to give me support within an hour or so. You know, what they wanted me to do, or how they could help but I got nothing. So anyway, we struggled through, I got through. I did some internet research that night trying to find out if there was any other grandparents in the position like me. Fortunate I come across one or two, and I also come across Kinship which was named Grandparents Plus at the time because I did put in the search engine ‘help for grandparent’ and it all stemmed from there really. You know, I rang and asked “What support is available? How I will go about various things?” so they did help me with that which I was much appreciative at the time. And then I set the little group up myself because later on, after a few years, because I felt that there wasn’t a lot out there for us.

Iain Broome: And how was that? What was it like? Because it’s quite a big jump, isn’t it to go from being an attendee to someone who organises things? That’s actually quite a big jump for you. So, what was that like?

Graham: Yes, it was. Like I say, I met a few other kinship carers like myself in various locations and I went to quite a few meets with them and we decided to put groups together and go on outings with the children and things, you know, taking them for days out. When the children were much younger I played Santa Claus at numerous occasions for them. But it’s one of those, trying to get people to come and meet is a big task so I found that wasn’t working so I just opened a small group on Facebook for people near and around my area. And it wasn’t easy but I finally got through and found, I’ve now got about 32 members on the page which is quite good and I feel proud I’ve achieved it, you know.

Iain Broome: Yeah, and I guess it gives people the option to either do something in person or they can also just do something online if they prefer. Do you have people that do both of those things and some that just do one or the other?

Graham: We’ve had people do both. You see because the children are much older now, teenagers, they don’t want to do exactly what other people do, do they? You know, grown ups, they feel a bit out, but it’s good for young people as well. And I feel that others need support as well so that’s why I did it. But I can also share the information that I held, you know, and got information on and share that with others so as they can use that in their journey. You know, you start in a totally different world kind of thing, looking for information that you don’t know much about. So, you need to gather that and then that will help support you. And talking to others in the same position does help because they might have been through something you have, or vice versa, and it can help.

Iain Broome: And how did it feel if you can go back to the beginning, I guess, how did it feel for you when you kind of realised that there were other people out there with this experience that you could relate to?

Graham: It was just like a sigh of relief in a sense. Although my position is quite unique because I’m a lone grandad on my own, which I have been for the duration of the journey and it wasn’t easy because you was always meeting grandmothers, and the grandfather were together. But some of them have good support networks within the family and some didn’t, and I was one of them that didn’t have much support network within the family because I’m a much older generation now and my family have grown and live in different countries so it’s difficult to get the support.

Iain Broome: How was your experience with peer support, and I guess also leading a peer support group? How do you think that might have changed your view of yourself as a kinship carer?

Graham: I feel like it’s a weight lifter because you know you’re not on your own. You know, you can talk about something to another kinship carer that what other people don’t understand, if that makes sense, you know, because it is quite a different task to be taking out.

Iain Broome: Yeah, and I guess you got the experience as well. Like, if your children you care for are now teenagers, that experience, I imagine, people new to being a kinship carer perhaps they can look at you and say, “Well, you know, as an experienced carer”, do you think that kind of like helps them? When you’re giving them information, is it helpful to kind of know that you have been through the experience and have been doing it for a while?

Graham: That’s right because I’ve had people tell me, “Thank you very much for that information”, it come to fruit for them so that was one good thing.

Iain Broome: Is there anything that you wish that you’d known before?

Graham: I wish I’d known a lot more about the kinship system. Right at the beginning of your journey, your head’s all fuzzy and you just don’t know which door to knock at, and you knock at doors and they’re closed and you can’t open them unless you have this other one open, so it’s a large field to be in.

Iain Broome: How would you have known to have researched the Children’s Act? That’s kind of one of those things that you couldn’t really possibly have known before.

Graham: I want the children to have their rights, you know. I mean, they’re unknowledgeable, you know, they’re young children, they don’t know what they’re entitled to or what the support is there for them. You know, so you’re their main advocate and, you know, through the journey you wear numerous hats professionally, you know, to help them along and you’ve got to do a lot of research. Well, I did at the time, but as time’s gone on by now, it is coming more known to everybody about kinship care so I’m hoping going forward that people will get more support.

Iain Broome: Yes, and has that changed over time now that the children you care for are a bit older? You talked about obviously you have to advocate for them and that, you know, they can’t be doing any of the research and understanding rights and all that kind of stuff when they’re small, but as they’ve got older, has that changed at all?

Graham: Yeah, I’ve seen numerous changes but some of the local authority have not took it on board. Like it’s a postcode lottery, it can work in one district and not in another which I find quite upsetting actually because we should all be treated the same. And there has been one or two little changes for the good, but I think it’s going to take some time.

Iain Broome: If you could write a headline for national news about kinship carers, what would it be?

Graham: Kinship carers to teach professionals in kinship.

Iain Broome: Is that because the importance of actually trying to understand the experience?

Graham: Yes, you know, because when you’re in this journey a lot of people didn’t understand about kinship care and what it entailed. Even professionals, a lot of the professionals didn’t and it wasn’t something at the forefront of everything. And, you know, I think Kinship has paved a way forward for support for these professionals to get more on board and what, you know, is going to work for the government and kinship carers together.

Iain Broome: What’s your main piece of advice for other kinship carers?

Graham: It is to seek as much information as you can going forward, getting the whole thing together to start your journey. And be prepared for a rollercoaster ride, but if you’ve got armed with the information, you should sail through it.

Iain Broome: And what’s the best thing about being a kinship carer?

Graham: We have had some happy times. We’ve been numerous places together, fishing, camping, you know. We have had some good times, you know, we work together as much as we can. As they get older, obviously they want to go their own way so you’ve got to try and steer them in the right direction to become young men with good morals.

Iain Broome: What do you think about the future? If you think about the future for the children, what do you see?

Graham: I see them growing up, bright young men. At the time, you know, knowing that I’ve kept them safe and they’ve been able to have a consistent home, where if they might have been in the care system, that might not have happened.

Iain Broome: Yeah, you kind of stepped up to raise them. Are you able to sort of see how you’ve made a difference in their life and like reflect on that?

Graham: Yes, in certain ways, yes I have, you know. When they do go out and we do go out, they have got good manners, you know. And some things they’re quite intelligent about, you know. But as I say, they’ve both got medical issues and it’s quite difficult, but to see that we’re pulling through that is great, you know.

Iain Broome: And in all of these interviews, we’re asking people if they can share moments of joy, things that particularly stand out, like memories or things, or even just everyday things, actually, things that kind of stick out as moments of joy for you.

Graham: Yeah, earlier on in the journey, Grandparents Plus was running a competition for Grandparent of the Year contest. And we was away on holiday in Wales at the time and I was there on my own with the two boys and I got a telephone text saying I’d won this competition that I’d applied for with Grandparents Plus and the boys will be entitled to 12 months’ worth of toys. And that was quite a big joy for us because it was mentioned in the local paper and the boys were excited. And we went down to London, which was a task for myself, going on the underground, never been with two young babies, and heading to London to pick up this award, and that was a little exciting for us all that.

So that was Graham’s kinship story and a big thank you to him for sharing his experience of kinship care with us. If you’re a kinship carer, or you know a kinship carer and want to learn more about the support we offer at Kinship, visit our website at compass.kinship.org.uk.

Our free phone advice line is for kinship carers living in England or Wales. You can call us, book an appointment or search online for information tailored to your situation. You can attend free workshops on specific topics related to kinship care. You can also get emotional support by finding a peer support group near you using our postcode finder. We also have a range of online support groups, including some for kinship carers who want to talk to others that they have specific things in common with. Maybe you’d like to start a group of your own. You could become a volunteer, like many of our guests on this podcast, and use your experience to help other kinship carers by offering them a listening ear and sharing your experiences with them.

Thank you for listening to Kinship Together. Join us for our next episode, where another kinship carer shares their unique story.