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We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

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This Carers Week 2024, Sharon McPherson, a kinship carer for her four grandchildren, talks about the challenges she and other carers like her face.

A kinship carer is a family member or friend who raises children who are not able to live with their parents.

Photo of a woman hanging out laundry on a washing line.

Photo of a woman hanging out laundry by David Tett via Centre for Better Ageing.

“In Carers Week 2024, I’ve been thinking about myself as being part of the ‘sandwich generation’ which most people would not know about, but we are in the middle, holding up our elders and carrying children and grandchildren, just to keep our families afloat.

I am a middle-aged woman with grown children who mostly care for themselves, but when life proves too difficult, like most parents, I am there. Extremely difficult circumstances resulted in me becoming the full-time kinship carer for my four grandchildren ranging from nineteen to seven years old, all of whom live at home.

I work, study, cook and clean like most nannies do. But I also provide practical support to my 80-year-old mother, who neither she or we her children would want to see being forced to depend on the care of strangers.

I would like to be able to give her all the care she may need, but recognise that in the future, I may be unable to do so as I have my own health issues and am honestly becoming increasingly tired.

If not me, then who?

When I think of the life I planned for, it never looked like this. I always worked hard, achieved a high standard of education and was diligent in my pursuit of my career goals to secure a positive future for myself and my children. However, when I do reflect on my current situation as hard as undoubtably it is, my only thought is, if not me then who?

Support for kinship carers

With so little support for kinship carers I constantly worry about how long kinship families will have the ability to properly care for themselves.

I have had to sacrifice career advancing opportunities which would have financially secured my retirement and I am now left, like so many kinship carers in my position, pondering that if we live to our retirement age, we may have to depend on some State provisions to support us.

We want the best for our grandchildren but recognise that we potentially have limited opportunity to create and maintain funds to support them into higher learning.

Because of our actions and sacrifices, stepping in early, many were never acknowledged by the State as being looked after children which means they were not then eligible to receive financial and other support from local authorities. Even when those same local authorities were the people saying the children could not live at home with their parents.

I also need to support my adult child, as she suffers from mental health issues which has impacted on her ability to care for the children that she loves dearly. She tries so hard not to add to my caring role but as my child, she will always be a priority.

Invisible family caregivers

I am not revealing my face in this blog because, like many other carers, I often feel invisible. Invisible to those that govern the processes I have to work with. Invisible to services I have to fight with for support for my neurodiverse grandchild, to ensure he does not slip through the gaps in relation to his education and wellbeing. How can a person who is practically the glue keeping a whole family together be so essential but so invisible at the same time?

I am not complaining, it’s not my nature and doesn’t fit into my daily schedule, I just want to give some insight into what thousands of kinship carers go through every day.

Carers Week 2024: Putting carers on the map

In carer’s week I want to acknowledge all carers for what they do but also to encourage others to actually see the invisible members of society that are keeping our families together. Without me my family would need to depend on services that in some cases, are simply not there. My child’s mental health might not be manageable, and she could be completely lost to the overrun and underfunded mental health services and my grandchildren could be separated in care facilities, or have been adopted. Without being seen, who is going to consider making provisions to support families like mine a priority?

I co-founded Families in Harmony, a charity for black and mixed heritage kinship carers, I sit on Family Rights Group’s kinship panel and many other groups. When I hear our collective lived experiences, I worry how long can we be expected to carry on without proper recognition, support, and child focussed future planning?

Simply put, how many generations of kinship families are going to be able to sustain the weight we are currently carrying?

Loving someone means you want them to have a life where they are mentally, emotionally, and physically well enough to cope. As a carer I want that for all of those I love, especially the children which is why I accept my role as the filler in our families’ sandwich.”

Sharon is a member of Family Rights Group Kinship Care panel.

There are 164,000 children who cannot live with their parents growing up in kinship care in England and Wales, which evidence shows gives them the best chance to thrive into adulthood.

Despite their dedication and commitment, 3 out of 4 kinship carers experience severe financial hardship and almost half have to give up work.

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