Kinship carers – coping through coronavirus
Conversations for Kinship Carers with Suzanne Zeedyk and Children 1st Parentline
This summer, Dr Suzanne Zeedyk joined Children 1st Parentline for three webinars about the things you can do to make things easier for your children this summer. This can be a particularly hard time for many kinship carers but laughing, organising and listening can make a big difference.
Suzanne explains the science behind how these three things work and why they matter so much to help children with anxiety and encourage connection.
Conversations for Kinship Carers - Laughter
Conversations for Kinship Carers - Organising
Conversations for Kinship Carers - Listening
Children and young people in kinship care live with family members or family friends because their birth parents are not able to care for them. Children 1st work alongside many kinship carers and see the amazing job you do.
Many children living in kinship care tell us they love living with their grandparents, aunties, uncles, older brothers and sisters or family friends. But we also understand kinship carers and their children sometimes face many different challenges. It’s not always plain sailing.
Families around the world are trying to adapt to a new way of living and coping through the anxiety and uncertainty of coronavirus. If you live in a kinship care family, you will be facing the same challenges of home schooling, keeping children and young people busy while at home, lack of time with friends and family as well as worries about health and work. Like many families you may also be worried about making ends meet. But you may also face additional stress and pressure because of your individual family circumstances.
We're here if you need to talk about kinship care
Managing worries about your own health
If you are a grandparent or older relative, or if you have underlying health issues, you may be more worried about what will happen to you and the children you look after.
It is natural to be worried in these circumstances. Here are some things that have helped kinship care families that Parentline has spoken to:
Remind yourself you are doing all you can to keep you and your family safe
Continue to follow the guidance about what you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from coronavirus and remind yourself that you are doing this.
You are not alone. Lots of people want to help and it’s important that we all ask for help when we need it – with deliveries of food or other essentials that your family need. Our local Children 1st children and family teams can also help deliver supplies to people’s doorsteps.
If you aren’t sure where to turn for help get in touch with Parentline, over the phone or through webchat. We can help to put you in touch with local sources of support.
It may be helpful to think through what you’d like to happen if you do become ill. Are there other family members the child you care for could stay with safely? If your child has a social worker, are you able to speak to them about what you would like to happen and ask them for support?
Talking through your plans and ideas with another adult that you trust, can really help. Parentline can also support you to think through what would be best for your family and how to make that happen.
Talk to your children about their worries
Your children may also be worried about what will happen if you get ill. Make time to listen to their worries. Answer their questions, as honestly as you can, in a way that they can understand. With younger children, try not to create worries about what may or may not happen. Instead explain clearly what’s happening day by day.
Managing worries about other family members
If your children’s birth parents rely on support from other agencies, such as the health service or addiction and recovery services, you may also have worries about them. Many support services are operating very differently because of coronavirus. Some support services are unable to offer any support at all.
Kinship care families have told us they worry about what this means for birth parents and what impact this might have on their children. Children may also have extra worries about how their birth parents will cope.
Children will express their worries in many different ways. Helping them manage their emotions by providing calm and loving reassurance that you are doing all you can to keep them safe is the most important thing you can do.
We know this can be difficult if you are worried yourself. Limiting the amount of news that you and your family listen to can help lessen the amount of worry you feel. Talking to another adult, or Parentline, can help you work through your own feelings, so that you are better able to calmly support your child.
Supporting children to manage their emotions
Children living in kinship care may have strong feelings of loss, worry, anger, loneliness and frustration. They can also feel that their birth parents may not have loved them enough to look after them.
If your child already feels overwhelmed and distressed, lockdown and social distancing measures may increase the emotions they are feeling. They may express frustration and anger through shouting and hitting. They may feel safer by not talking at all. Older young people may try to block out how they feel by using alcohol or drugs. Or they may spend a lot of time on the internet or gaming. All of the ways in which children express distress can be worrying for carers.
You can read more about how a child’s brain responds to traumatic experiences and what they need to help in our family friendly guide to brain development.
Kinship carers are telling Parentline that the children they care for are really struggling with the loss of support, social activities, school routines and seeing their friends and teachers. If you are finding your child’s behaviour hard, remember that many other children in kinship care are also struggling with what is happening.
Putting some regular activities into your day and finding new ways to connect with friends and family can help your child. It can also help you.
The most important thing you can do for your child is to provide the care, love and security that helps them feel safe.
Talking to Parentline can help you understand how your child is dealing with their feelings. Parentline can also help you explore how to respond and put you in touch with additional support.
Seeing birth parents
If your child would normally spend time with their birth parent(s) on their own, it may still be possible for this to continue as normal. If you were helping to make this contact happen, for example by being around during visits, taking the child to their birth parents’ home, or by taking a child somewhere, like a contact centre, things may be more difficult. If you have an underlying health condition, are shielding, or rely on public transport it may not be possible to continue with the contact arrangements you currently have.
You, the children or their birth parents may find this a very difficult decision. The most important thing is to put the needs of the children first. Think about their emotional needs – how they will feel – as well as their health needs. You also need to think about the health needs of other people living in the same home.
Please don’t feel alone in trying to work out what’s best for the children in your care. Parentline can help you think through what would be right for your family.
If the contact arrangements can’t carry on as before, decide what other ways you can maintain contact. These could include phone calls, video chats, letters or sending pictures.
Getting financial help
Becoming a kinship care family can create extra pressures on finances. Many families will get a kinship care allowance. Families who have recently begun caring for children, or who are in the middle of getting a kinship care order may be feeling extra financial pressure.
Our money advice pages provide lots of information about the financial support available for families to cope through coronavirus.
You can also speak to Parentline’s money advice team who can give your family tailored help to maximise your income.
Kinship carers often talk about how isolated they feel. Some kinship carers have told us that social distancing and lockdown is making them feel even more lonely. Think about what you need, as well as what your children need.
Video chats with family and friends can help you stay in touch. During the coronavirus crisis, lots of organisations, including Children 1st Parentline, are helping families get access to technology to stay in touch if they need it.
Some local kinship care support groups, including some run by Children 1st, are continuing to hold group chat support sessions, which you could join. Many kinship carers say it helps to keep in touch with families going through the same things.
You are not alone. Parentline is here to help your kinship care family to cope through coronavirus. Call us or start a webchat for practical and emotional support, as well as information about other services in your area that can help you and your family.