The day two African Queens went to tea with the King
5 minute read
This blog was created by Sharon McPherson who, with her friend Johanna Bernard, is a co-director of Families in Harmony. Sharon has worked in partnership with Family Rights Group and is the newest member of our kinship carers’ panel.
When my friend Johanna and I started Families in Harmony in 2020 it was because we wanted to support black kinship carers on their journey through the children’s social care system. We recognise all kinship carers need advice, support and signposting to the services that can help them navigate a system that most do not understand. However, we recognise from personal experience that some black families were terrified of getting involved with children’s services because of negative stereotypes and institutional “misunderstandings” about our culture which had led to some receiving negative assessments and so many not receiving the correct financial support to care for their kinship children.
We’ve worked with families and professionals in a constructive and collaborative way in our attempts to make positive changes to the system and have built up good working relationships with those professionals. Regardless of this I was still completely shocked when I received an email from the Honours Team inviting me to the King’s first garden party at Buckingham Palace. I presumed it had to be a scam, but the Department of Education really had nominated me as a result of our work.
My invite was for myself, and another guest. It could only be my friend and co-director Johanna Bernard. When we spoke, it was automatically agreed that only cultural African dresses would be suitable for such an occasion. We consulted an excellent designer who created our perfect bespoke outfits.
We had planned to travel to the Palace by tube. However, Johanna’s son thought this was hilarious and asked, “Are you seriously intending to spend so much money to have designer outfits created and then use public transport to get to the Palace?”. We then gratefully accepted his offer to arrange for a taxi. Whilst driving down the Mall we were extremely thankful for his intervention, arriving in pristine condition and on time.
Outside the Palace we were stopped by several passers-by, each complimenting us on our outfits. We had definitely made the right decision to reflect our culture. Everyone being so friendly gave us the confidence to approach a member of the King’s Guard and ask if he would take a picture with us which he happily did.
I was shocked when we entered the palace gardens and saw so many people. I immediately expressed to Johanna that I hoped the caterers had prepared enough food for everyone. As the head of a busy household, I am used to catering for unexpected guests. Another guest overheard me and thought this was highly amusing. Thankfully the palace caterers did not let us down. However, whilst the pea and mint sandwiches were unexpectedly delicious, the cakes were extremely small, and I found I certainly needed to consume more than one to truly enjoy the experience.
We talked to guests from all across the country. Everyone was friendly and interested to know why each person had been nominated. We talked about being kinship carers and our charity work. However, we were quite disheartened that no one, except one lady from Norfolk understood the concept of kinship care. She ran a chain of SEN schools and had met many foster carers and a few kinship carers, but even she was not aware of the term, instead mentioning relatives that cared for the children.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day and appreciated being nominated to attend. But we came away thinking how unfortunate it was that as there were so many relatives and friends taking care of children under kinship care agreements and no one knew about us.
This was an event where there were thousands of people, and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t speak to them all, why was it that they did not know that our families even existed, much less the term “kinship care”.
The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care is now leading to a national kinship strategy, we have an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kinship Care and yet, we still appear to be invisible to the wider public, including professionals who really should know about us. This has to change.
We are pleased that we were able to use our voices to highlight kinship families and to inform those that we spoke to about the work that Family Rights Group and others in the sector are doing but we can’t do this on our own. We really do need the Government to prioritise, promote and properly support our families, so we are no longer seen as the Cinderellas at the ball.
You can find out more about Sharon and Johanna’s organisation, Families in Harmony, on their website.