Anne Houston: Day to celebrate value of grandparents

Picture: Getty
Picture: Getty
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FOR most of us, grandparents hold or have held a special place in our hearts and minds.

Whether enjoying the comforting waft of fresh baking from their kitchen, the simple shared pleasure of admiring the rose garden together, or even simply the joy of sitting absorbing their wise words of experience – our interaction and reliance on grandparents has perhaps traditionally been rooted in a recognition that the time spent bringing up their own children is then rewarded with a more leisurely role in family life as new generations emerge.

Today, however, on Grandparents’ Day, at CHILDREN 1ST we know that the once traditional role of the grandparent in many Scottish families is facing an evolution in response to children’s needs.

As one of Scotland’s leading children’s charities, we have witnessed a growth in the numbers of recognised grandparents becoming kinship carers – that is, people caring for a child who can no longer live with their parents.

Helping vulnerable children and young people thrive safely within their families is at the heart of what CHILDREN 1ST does, and as a result we were commissioned by the Scottish Government in March 2011 to develop and implement a national service to support kinship carers. A service which aims to improve children’s lives through helping the kinship carers who look after them.

Increasingly, we see evidence that grandparents make up the highest percentage group of such carers using our national kinship care helpline service, and as a result, they are a key influence on our campaigns as we push for greater representation for them and the children they’re bringing up. On average, year on year since 2011, we have seen around 100 more grandparents contacting us annually about kinship care.

Our helpline, run by ParentLine Scotland, is available to kinship carers 365 days a year and our interaction with and support for grandparents in this service proves to us that the informality of kinship care has positive outcomes for vulnerable children and young people.

Love and happiness are central to the kinship care family. Kinship care can provide children, who have often had a very difficult and damaging start to life, with loving, safe and secure families. The rewards for the grandparents we have surveyed who take on such roles range from knowledge that the children are safe, loved and thriving in a secure environment, to being part of the child’s development and quite simply, knowing and seeing that the child is happy. Every child deserves that.

The meeting of emotional needs is one thing. However, as any carer knows, it is so often the practical side of financing a child’s upbringing which can create the greatest difficulty – and all too often a sense of isolation. Many of the grandparent kinship carers we speak to voice deep concern at a lack of financial support such as free school meals or clothing grants. Our Parentline volunteers can help with details of support services and contacts. However, there is still a disparity in the help offered to kinship carers from local authorities across Scotland. Some have dedicated kinship care social workers, but this is not the case in all areas, while structures for any kind of financial support or allowances can vary significantly across respective council regions.

The welfare, security and happiness of any child or family in a kinship care relationship should not be a postcode lottery, particularly when we know from experience that such arrangements are generally stronger and last longer than other types of placements.

It is that gap in uniformity of support for these incredible carers – many increasingly grandparents – which CHILDREN 1ST strives to address through our National Kinship Care Service.

Grandparents truly are special members of the family, and none more so than those who have delayed the rose-smelling years that wee bit longer in order to give their experience, security and support to a child who needs looked after and loved.

There’s no simpler or more powerful gift than that of making a child safe and happy.

The very least we can do this Grandparents’ Day is to start to acknowledge those who have taken hold of the reins of childcare for a second time in life and offer back our thanks with support, increased future resources and respect. «

Anne Houston is chief executive of CHILDREN 1ST. The National Kinship Care Helpline is 08000 28 22 33; or email parentlinescotland@children1st.org.uk