Episode 4: "Alone together"

In this episode, we speak to David who's been a kinship carer to his two grandchildren for around three years and shares his experience of supporting other kinship carers through Kinship’s volunteer service, Someone Like Me.

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In this episode, we speak to David who’s been a kinship carer to his two grandchildren for around three years. He also helps other kinship carers through Kinship’s volunteer service, Someone Like Me. In the conversation, he shares his experience of talking to other kinship carers and the benefits of knowing that support is available. David also talks about the challenges of becoming a kinship carer in difficult circumstances, and how he’s been able to adjust and provide a safe, caring home to grow up in.

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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’s 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. Hopefully you’ll pick out some useful advice along the way too.  

In this episode, we speak to David who’s been a kinship carer for around three years. He also helps other kinship carers through Kinship’s volunteer service, Someone Like Me. Someone Like Me is a free peer support telephone service for kinship carers, delivered by kinship carers. It gives carers the opportunity to talk to someone who knows what they’re going through. It’s not about offering information or advice but being there to support and listen. You can find out more about Someone Like Me on Kinship’s website. Okay. This is David’s story.​ 

Iain Broome: I wonder if we could start by perhaps talking about how you came to be a kinship carer and how long ago that was. 

David: So basically, I think we all lived through Covid the way that it was. Unfortunately, I lost my daughter on 22nd of December, actually 2020. She left behind a little boy of 10 months and a girl just barely three years old. A father that wasn’t able to cope for various reasons that I won’t go into. So it was a quick sort of, it wasn’t even a decision. For me, it was a quick, “I’m gonna get the kids, this is what we need to do, they’ve already lost the mum, the dad’s not capable,” and we just went for it. We just took the children without any thought. Didn’t know what was going to happen. Didn’t know how long that was going to be for. Was it going to be until, you know, they were a lot older? Was something going to happen? I don’t know. Because, you know, bear in mind, I just lost my daughter so all this was happening on top of this within a few days and trying to prepare for funerals and stuff like that. Yeah, it wasn’t easy but you do it, and you do it for the children. And I think where we sort of looked at each other, my partner and myself, and with that, “What do we do now? Where do we go?”. We couldn’t get hold of anybody. Covid made sure of that because it was just answer phone after answer phone, people weren’t coming back to us and for the first few weeks we were just in a complete dizz, a complete dizz. 

Iain Broome: And a lot of people are not really familiar with the idea of a kinship carer or even the words kinship carer. Is that the case for you? I mean, I suppose.  

David: It was. Iain, yeah, yeah, it was absolutely. Only I didn’t know what kinship was, I didn’t know. I was totally, and I’m going to be, yeah, ignorance is bliss I suppose. So what we did, or what I did, we started looking on the laptop, you know, and putting in caring after grandchildren, and I think at that time it was called Grandparent Plus, something like that. 

Iain Broome: Yeah, Kinship the charity was Grandparents Plus before that originally. Yeah. 

David: Yeah, so, so then it’s now coming to Kinship. And I managed to get hold of somebody there who was really, really helpful, very empathetic. Tried to guide us through what we should be doing, what we shouldn’t be doing, and just being there as a rock for me because, you know, hopefully nobody else has to go through what we went through, but when you’re looking after grandchildren and trying to deal with bereavement at the same time, it’s not easy. You know, we’ve taken two children away from the home they’ve been brought up in and it was all new. So it was new to them, this was new to us, it was new to them. And of course, Covid meant I hadn’t really seen my grandson because we weren’t allowed to visit and they were living in Cumbria and we were in Lancashire. So yes, he’s seen me, but not, not any great bond if you like. So we were all learning at the same time, but if it hadn’t been for Kinship, I have no clue where I would have gone to be fair. 

Iain Broome: Covid was strange like that, wasn’t it? You kind of, we all felt like, well you kind of, the idea that you sort of physically have to stay in one place, but also like all the services and things that you normally would find quite naturally, it felt like they were put to a distance as well almost. 

David: They were, they were at a distance but I have to be honest, not for Kinship, they were there.  Kinship make it about the mental health, if you like, of everybody not just the children but us as well, and their well-being, their health, their safety. 

Iain Broome: And I guess the important question is, what are the children like today and how are they getting on? 

David: Really well and it’s not been easy, you know, it hasn’t been easy, we have little glitches, you know. My granddaughter was three, and literally just turned three by a couple of months. Understood a lot more than I give her credit for, I have to be honest. Missed her mum like crazy. No help anywhere for children under a certain age for bereavement but so, we sorted that out ourselves a little bit later. Doing really well, she’s at school now and just loves reading and maths and all of that. Gets very frustrated, got a bit of a quick fuse in her, don’t know where she gets that from but she likes to do well. And yeah, my grandson is doing really, really well considering what he went through. Had a slight glitch a little bit early this year. He developed a stammer. Took him to the doctors and he said, “I actually think it’s because of bereavement” which shocked me because I thought, “He was 10 months, he was 10 months old, he couldn’t be” but yeah he’s had counselling for that through a local charity actually here, and he’s okay now, he’s doing well. 

Iain Broome: Peer support is quite an important thing and a big thing for a lot of kinship carers. A lot of kinship carers find speaking to other kinship carers to be really beneficial and really helpful. Can you remember the first time you became not, I guess, not just aware of kinship care as a concept, but became aware of other kinship carers and perhaps the first time you spoke to someone else, and what that was like? 

David: Yeah, I did, I did speak to somebody but I think what staggered me was so many, and I’m going to say grandparents, it isn’t just grandparents, that’s wrong, but those carers, the kinship carers. Everything, doesn’t matter how you get to look after the children or what the circumstances are behind that, everybody but everybody was going through the same thing. But when you talk to other people who have been through it, actually it makes it a bit easier because you don’t feel, this is going to sound really silly, but I felt alone together, if you know what I mean. So you had all these people that, you know, you’re talking to, you’re not looking at, but you’re talking to. You open your heart up and actually think, “I thought it was me, am I failing, am I doing this?”. But you’re not, you’re not. And they support you just by being, by their knowledge of having already meandered through the web, if you like, because it is a web. Because you are entitled to things, you’re just not told about it.  

Iain Broome: And what kind of things when you say that you’re entitled to things. Can you give us some examples? 

David: Yeah, there’s certain things like, we were getting at that time very little financial support. I mean very little considering we had the children in nursery because we were both working and for us it was important to have them in nursery so they got that interaction with other kids. I don’t want the kids to be brought up with two old people and being, you know, talking like they’re 48 when they’re only six, whatever. So it was important, you know. Those fees are massive, they’re two grand, they were two grand a month. Luckily or unluckily, we had money to spare, if you like, or we used our savings and some of our pensions to do that. But actually, as we go through, they’ll say, “Well, did you know that actually you can apply for a financial assessment? Did you know?”. And no, I didn’t. I didn’t know. Even to the legal fees, it was too late for us, but I have, I’ve personally helped other people since saying, “Did you know that if you go to court, the court can award a solicitor for your child because they’re under, if they’re under 16, to get help?”. We didn’t know that, so we had many thousand of pounds of money that we had to give solicitors because once you, once you’ve already paid once, you can’t opt out to get help.  

Iain Broome: In what sort of setting are you having those conversations?  

David: It’s on the telephone with different carers, yeah, where they’ve been through it and they say, “Did you know that?”. I said, “I actually didn’t know that, no”. But I tried to, you know, when the solicitor, when they said “Can I opt out of that? Because, you know, we’ve paid you X number of thousand pounds”. “No, you’re in the system now, you can’t do that but if you do it at the very beginning you can.” So, you know, I do volunteer as being a carer. I’m there for support for other people. So, if somebody’s in a similar situation as me, I can say, “Did you know?”. We can never force what has happened to us, because everybody’s different, but “Did you know?”. And if you signpost people, and I think that was a lot of it, you know Iain, it was being signposted to different help. And it was that because it’s like being in a maze in a blindfold, you just have no clue where you’re going. But when you’re getting signposted by other carers who have said, “Go to this site, have you looked at this?”. “No, I didn’t know it even existed.” Because until you’re in that position, you don’t look at it. You don’t need to, you don’t need to know about it. 

Iain Broome: And how has your experience with peer support, and now you’ve spoken to presumably hundreds of kinship carers, how has that changed your view of yourself as a kinship carer?  

David: I think for me personally, I’ve made something very dramatic, traumatic that happened to me, you know, you love your kids, into a positive. Because I know that’s what she would have wanted. She was always about helping people. And it is, I mean, you know, I talked to a lady last week, and it was, she just wanted to talk, not about anything in particular. She just wanted to have, to speak to somebody who would, who could empathise what she was going through. She didn’t really need signposting because she already had that, but she was having a bad week, and sometimes you have bad weeks. You have horrific weeks, I’ll be honest. But just to be able to reach out and talk to somebody. And it could be 10 minutes, it could be 15, some have been an hour. But it doesn’t matter, you’re talking to them and you’re talking to somebody on their level who’s got nothing to gain through anything that they’re saying. It’s just what I’m sharing is my knowledge and that’s free.  

Iain Broome: So, talking a bit more about your own experience of being a kinship carer now, is there anything that you wish you’d known before, or even in the process of becoming a kinship carer? 

David: I’ve learned how resilient I can be and how empathetic I can be and understanding. I can also share their frustrations where, you know, and I keep on coming, and I’m going to say this again. When you’re looking after children, regardless of who they are or what the relationship is, it costs money. If you haven’t planned for that, where’s that money coming from? You know, kids cost money. Look, and I’m gonna say we were lucky to the extent that we sold our house before, before all this happened, because we were gonna build another house. So we had money in the bank. Had we not had that Iain, I have not a clue what we would’ve done because that did help us for a, for a good year to be fair. And we’re lucky. Can you imagine those people who haven’t got that money? I’ve been there. You know, my, my background is very working class. But I worked hard, I did well, you know, I’m well into my 60s now, had some money spared just because of the sale of the house. But it means we’re renting now, we haven’t got our own property anymore. So all that’s gone. Our plans for retirement, we can’t retire. We can’t retire until the kids are at college or whatever they’re going to be doing. There’s things that will happen in their life that we’ve got to be prepared for, which we didn’t budget for. And it’s the unfairness of, or it’s a family arrangement so you’re going to, you know, but there should be help out there. We should be made equal as everybody else’s and everybody who is a kinship carer are not unique. They’re just part of a club, if you like. It’s a bad one because it, you know, we’re all fighting the same fight. But I think besides the money that support that you do, we give and we get from Kinship is terrific. It’s not a subscription. You don’t take £10 a week. It’s free. 

Iain Broome: What’s your main advice for someone who is a kinship carer? 

David: Reach out. You’re not alone. Reach out to other people. Reach out to Kinship because, you know, what they do, you know, if you want help, excuse me, and to talk to somebody, you don’t just get a random person on the phone. They do all the background and “Is it similar, is it what?”. They try and pair you up with the right person. But reach out to them and be honest and be open and don’t feel guilty that you can’t afford it. Don’t feel guilty that you’re letting the child down because you shouldn’t. And there’s always help somewhere, you just need to reach out. 

Iain Broome: How did you do that when you first reached out? How did you do it? What sort of format did that take? Was it, did you, was it a phone call, did you email? 

David: It was, yeah, it was an email initially because you had to fill a form in, and, and, but they were pretty quick at coming back to me. And then I was given people to talk to, and there was, I think initially it was a supervisor, because it was, yeah, I think because it was in the middle of a bereavement as well, so we had a supervisor who was absolutely brilliant. But it’s the way that we were spoken to, not at, if that makes sense. They were very empathetic, very understanding. It wasn’t new to them. We thought it was new to us and we were the only ones on the planet that this had happened to. And we weren’t, and we aren’t, and it will continue to happen. You know, alright, it’s not going to be Covid, it could be anything else. But it will happen to other people, but there needs to be, for me, more of a network for people, that it should be easier, and Kinship make it easier. They don’t make it quicker, they just make it easier. 

Iain Broome: What is the best thing about being a kinship carer? 

David: There’s two elements to this because I’m doing, we think we’re doing a great job looking after the kids but it’s bringing them up to be grounded, to understand, you know, losing your mother at 10 months and three year old is not easy. And for our extent, they’ve lost the father as well, but it’s always being honest with your children and making it age appropriate and very clear to them. And it has to be very clear. It’s not what you’re feeling. It’s not that. You can’t do that. You have to tell them right from wrong and tell them so they understand and let them form their own opinion, which they are doing. But for me, it’s being part of that and protecting my daughter’s legacy. That’s the way I look at it. For being a carer and being a Kinship supporter as well, I get that, so I can share all of that. Because that’s the sort of things we talk about, is that, “Oh what about, how do you, how do you handle it when your daughter, your granddaughter will ask, did mommy die, what happened?”. And, you know, they’ve been similar things. Or it may be, you know, “My daughter and my son can’t look after the children for whatever the reason may be. How would you do that? What would happen?”. And, it’s not, you can’t tell them what to do. You just work around it and you work, you work it together and make that person come up with their own choices. But it’s like a soundboard, if you like, just sounding different things and, you know, never, never, ever feeling ashamed to ask for help for me. And I didn’t, initially I did, I thought “I’ve done this, I’m fine, I’m fine”. You’re not, you need people.  

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

David: It scares me, I’ve got to be honest, it scares me. Only to the fact is that, you know, the world, the type of world we’ve got, we’ve got all those things that they have to go through. I’ve got a six year old who’s actually 35, I think she is. I’ve got a really bright grandson who’s probably brighter than me if the truth be told. And, you know, when he’s now three, they’re allowed to have an iPad for half an hour a day. Age appropriate, again, all the restrictions in there. Yeah, the future scares me a little bit, and it scares me only because I’ve got to stay as healthy as I can for as long as I can to make sure they’re adults when the time comes that I’m no longer available, or my partner’s no longer available for those children. That scares me but what we have done, we have got, like my son’s very close to them and his family so they’re very, very close and it’s building up that network of support. And making the children as responsible as a six and a three year old can be, but they are fairly responsible in that way so they’re not relying on us for everything. 

Iain Broome: How have you approached the network building? 

David: Quite methodical and I’m quite, I’m a typical northerner, I’m quite blunt, so you know I had a chat with the family and said, “Look, I’m not going to be around forever. My partner’s not going to be around forever”. The children levitate to us, of course they do. You know, we couldn’t leave the room when we first got them because they wanted that security, they wanted to feel safe. Now, they are starting, they’re now starting to go to a friend’s overnight, or my son’s overnight. It’s one night but it’s just allowing, it’s adapting that, you know, a day away from me is fine. You know, “We’re going to be here when you come back”. But it’s broadened their horizons as well. So that’s what we’re trying to do. But yeah, we were very, I was methodical. I was very blunt about it. I said, “Look, if something happened to me tomorrow, I need to know that we’ve got something in place”. So we did that. But we’ve also got a friend network because we moved to a new place that we’d never been to. We’d only been in a few months. So they’re at school now and we’re building it up. And yes, there’s a big age difference between us and their parents, but actually they’re very supportive, and things like nursery have been supportive, school very supportive, so it’s building that network further out. 

Iain Broome: Yeah, no, it’s interesting to hear that you’re very, you’re having to take that kind of methodical you say, but like, I really. 

David: Yeah, even things like, “Oh my god, what if both of us drop dead now? We’re going to have to top the life insurance up”. It’s, that sort of thing, so again, you think, you’ve got to think on your feet the whole time, “What if, What if?”. 

Iain Broome: Kinship carers don’t always give themselves the credits or the pat on the back that they deserve so this is an opportunity for you to do that for yourself. You’ve stepped into this role so can you, you know, can you talk about the difference that you’ve made in their lives? I know that that might seem like an obvious question almost, because it’s, you know, you’ve done so much. But. 

David: For me, the one thing, you know, my daughter is very loving, very, very loving to the children, and they miss that, you know. It’s difficult to say for my grandson because he was, he was a baby,  but my granddaughter definitely. But what we had to do, or what I wanted to do, and I have done, we have done, is give them stability. They feel safe here, even to the point where if we’re shopping, my grandson will say, “Are we going home now? I want to feel safe”. But I think we have given that stability. We’ve definitely given that. We’ve given them all the love that they can have, we’ve given, you know, they can have that. So I think, and I think for us, we’ve been, for me being in a same sex relationship, “Was that going to be difficult?”. Well, it, it was, it wasn’t frowned upon, that’s wrong. But we felt as if we had to go over and above to prove our worth, although I’ve been a dad before and I’ve brought two kids up, I’ve done that but actually it’s working out really well. And you think, well, “How are the kids going to cope with this?”. They don’t know any different. Their friends don’t know any different. So it’s, you know, I’m Grandpa, and Frank’s Gramps, and that’s it. And that’s it. For them, this is normal. And, you know, they’ll go through and say, “Why is that happening on the telly? And why is that happening on the telly?” if the news is on. I mean, we’re very careful what we do show them. And it could be anything to do with LGBT, whatever, and we say, “Well, yeah, they don’t like him because he loves another man or that lady loves the other”. What’s wrong with that? And if we’re giving them that to accept whatever you are, well, I think we’re doing okay. 

Iain Broome: Absolutely. Just to finish, it would be great if you could share some moments of joy. Anything that particularly stands out that you think would be good to share. 

David: So, the kids, I think, this is going to sound awful, they’re so much brighter than I was going to give them credit for. You can’t fool them. You can’t fool them at all. I think, for me, it’s when they come home from school or nursery, and they tell me all about that day. They love it, they absolutely, for me, that’s the highlight. I’m not the grumpy old grandpa, because I’m the grumpy one, one of us has to be. And I think it’s that, it’s just when, or when something’s simple, or when they’re get on an iPad and they self-learn about the body. There’s a kid’s thing on there, on YouTube and it’s all about the body and how it works and when you get your three year old telling me, “Do you know when you go have a drink, do you know how you have a wee? I’m going to tell you where it goes”. And he’s learning this. I thought, “I love that” because I wasn’t that bright at three. Definitely not. Definitely not. So, it’s that and it’s making them feel loved. I think that’s it. And I know my daughter would be proud of what we’ve done. 

So that was David’s experience of being a kinship carer. A big, thank you to him for taking the time to share his story. If you’re a kinship carer, or you know a kinship carer and want to learn more about the support we offer, 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.