Supporting kinship families during covid-19: Part 1

Jane is one of Adfam’s Family Support Coordinators, working with kinship families affected by substance use in Peterborough. We interviewed her to find out how kinship families have been affected by COVID-19 and lockdown. To find out more about Jane’s project in Peterborough, please click here.

Kinship care is when a child lives full time or majority of the time with a relative or friend, for example a grandparent, aunt/uncle, step parent or family friend.

What does your role with Adfam involve?

“I coordinate a project in Peterborough, funded by Children In Need, that supports kinship children and families that have been specifically affected by somebody’s drug or alcohol use. It may be that child is in a kinship care arrangement due to their parent’s alcohol or drug use, or there may just be issues in the wider family around alcohol or drugs.

We support families within any kind of kinship care arrangement; some arrangements have been made within the families informally or some have been made officially through the involvement of the court where an order has been put in place.

The project I coordinate in Peterborough has three strands:

• Monthly activities bringing kinship children and carers together and giving them an opportunity to form connections and make friends with those in a similar situation. We offer a range of activities for kinship families to try something new and to learn new skills, whilst giving the children a chance to build confidence and resilience.

• Individual support- which provides kinship carers with both a ‘listening ear’ as well as advice and information, for example about their rights and entitlements, or signposting them to other support services. Sometimes this also involves practical support to attend meetings

• Working closely with an established support group in Peterborough for kinship carers. I regularly attend group sessions and we sometimes run workshops on a specific topic, including ‘attachment’ and ‘the impact of early trauma’. We currently have plans to run sessions on ‘online safety’ and ‘contact with parents’. We also invite representatives from other services to come along to the group and tell them what they can offer to kinship carers.”

How has your work been affected by COVID-19 and how have you adapted the way in which you provide support?

“Guidance around COVID-19 means that we have had to adjust the service and provide support remotely. In terms of individual support, I’m continuing to offer that to families over the telephone or on Zoom.

We have also been sending twice weekly emails to carers that are known to our service or the support group with ideas for activities for children and families as well as useful contact details and resources. We are now also sending them monthly family activity packs in the post that include games and learning materials. These are based on the 7 C’s of resilience, with last month’s theme being ‘coping’. 

I have also recently started facilitating virtual zoom groups so that kinship carers and children can meet remotely and maintain connections with one another. These are based around activities that involve the whole family such as quizzes and bingo.”

What are the main issues and challenges for kinship carers and their families at the moment? Are these challenges heightened or different from usual due to the current lockdown?

“This is a really difficult time for kinship carers. The fact that the children are in kinship care arrangements already brings up a range of challenges, but these have been amplified by COVID-19 and lockdown. Lots of the kinship carers in Peterborough are grandparents so many fall into the over 70’s group, and many have underlying health conditions. That means for them there is a lot of worry about the virus and becoming unwell, and then who, in this instance, would look after the children in place of them. Often they are the only family member or close friend available to do so. They are therefore faced with the challenge of deciding what is best for the children, which requires balancing the need to shield themselves from the virus, with the child’s immediate needs which could be helped by the structure of going to school where they have the option.

Many of the children in kinship care already have additional needs, and have been exposed to early trauma, so would get additional support in school. There is a lot of guilt felt by the kinship carers around the children not being at school and not feeling equipped to help children with their school work. This can be due to issues with literacy, IT, or lacking confidence generally.

The lockdown situation also creates more scenarios for conflict to arise, for example with children not wanting to engage in schoolwork, and this only adds to the pressures already felt by kinship carers to ensure that they are doing a good enough job at caring for the children. Kinship carers are also worried about the mental health consequences of the lockdown on their children and what support will be available for them to adjust when they do return to school.

Many kinship carers also already have financial worries, which have only been added to by the lockdown. Some carers may get a financial allowance for caring for a child, but these are time limited and only under certain circumstances. Having children at home all of the time rather than, for example, them eating lunch at school, and providing home based activities to keep children entertained, is increasing the cost of living. The financial support available for kinship carers is quite complicated, only certain kinship care arrangements qualify for financial support, and the benefits system can be difficult to navigate. In reality, there are many kinship families dealing with similar issues who don’t have a formal order in place so don’t qualify for financial support. The inequalities between those with an order and those without have always been there, but have been exacerbated by the current situation.

We also know that there is less support available for families at the moment as many services are on hold. For example, there are families in Peterborough waiting to deal with housing issues and living in overcrowded situations. Additional funding to support kinship carers at the current time has been made available through the adoption support fund, but it is unclear how this will be spent locally at the moment and which families will benefit from this. Again, it is likely to be limited to those in certain types of kinship arrangements.

There is obviously more online support becoming available for kinship families, however, there are barriers to some families accessing this. Some kinship carers simply don’t have the digital infrastructure, or others don’t feel confident using zoom. For example, one family in Peterborough has five children and only one phone, which makes it hard for them all to sign in to sessions. That being said, the families receiving online support from Adfam and/ or their family support workers are really appreciating it.”

Look out for part 2, which will be released tomorrow, where Jane discusses what more can be done to support kinship carers. 

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