You can read part one on my blog here.
When we initially set up the three week trial for my neice to come and stay with us it never crossed my mind that it might turn out not to be just a trial. I did not anticipate that it wouldn't work (ever the optimist that I am), neither did I consider that she would not be going back to my parents for a while so that we could get organised (physically and emotionally). As it turned out, at the beginning of week three my neice announced that she didn't want to go back to my parents, was enjoying school and didn't want to go back to her old school. What could we say? What would we have gained by sending her back for a few months (we had been thinking of making it permenant in September when the new school year started after having her here during the August holidays)? The question that seemed most appropriate to consider was, what harm might be caused by sending her where she didn't want to be and felt very unhappy? It was therefore discussed between the seven of us, my two children, my husband, my neice and my parents. The decision was that we would have to decorate and rearrange rooms around the children but we would manage - so we went for it.
The social worker who became my neices 'key worker' was happy with this decision, she felt it was the best way forward. At this point she was seeing her at least once a week and was very concerned about her mental health. Now the decision was made that she was staying she referred her on to the child and family guidance clinic to get more emotional help (at this point it was not clear who the help was for).
It must have been very difficult for my parents, I cannot imagine how rejected they must have felt, though I know there was alot of relief as well. My mum started to take her mental health more seriously and started on medication and counselling and they also offered my husband and I all the support that they could.
After several months I was finally told that we would be getting our 'Kinship' application processed, however this involved 4 or 5 interviews with ourselves, our children and my neice (this took a couple of months), fortunately the lady that was doing the report for our application was very pleasant to chat with. When we finally received the report it was one of the bizarre out of body experiences. There we were reading about someone elses interpretation of how we lived, brought up our own children, disciplined our children, how we had been brought up ourselves and whether we were doing things the same or differently (and why). The final paragraph was all we were really interested in - yes we were being accepted as the most appropriate care for our neice and could become her Kinship carers.
The main door that this now opened was the financial one - this is means tested and very very thorough, fortunately being the folks that we are, we keep a good breakdown of our monthly outgoings all the time so being able to show exactly how much we spent on food, petrol, eating out, socialising, etc, was relatively easy for us. We didn't get our first payments until December 2009, 7 months after we had taken on this care role. Fortunately for us we will be getting some back pay - however 10 months on we are still waiting for this. At least there was some money to buy stuff for Christmas!
I now receive regular (6 weekly approx) visits from a Kinship Care Support worker (from social services), this is helpful, as she is the one doing the chasing for my back payments. She is also able to listen to me offload all the daft situations that we have been through. I say daft because they are probably quite normal but when you do not know a child like your own and you have not yet been through the age that your kinship child is - everything seems most bizarre and daft most of the time!
I have found however that their role is in quite a period of 'flux' at the moment. They have been moved departments and no longer have any funding, so cannot send us on any training (which their advert had indicated they did). In fact I found out last week that they do not even have any funds to purchase materials, like books, from groups like the 'family rights group' to lend out to kinship carers, this seems ridiculous.
There is therefore some emotional support set up for my husband and myself. My neice also now has fortnightly appointments with the child and family guidance play therapist which seems to be really aiding her ability to communicate with us. We have regular reviews with the therapist and the team social worker which we all find very helpful. My two children have had some support from their school - this has helped but I do worry that they need more, especially for my daughter.
As far as how we are coping with this role - we take one day at a time. There is a new challenge of some sort or other most weeks. I'll write some more about these challenges next week in part three.
I hope this blog helps to explain our role a little, please feel free to ask questions, thanks for reading x.