Carers tell of the challenges, sacrifices & rewards that come with looking after relatives’ children

Blood is thicker than water.

Jun 22 2012 By Craig McQueen

Catherine, Anne, Susan and George at the support group

GRANDMOTHER Anne Swartz knows only too well that blood is thicker than water.

The 58-year-old widow from Dumbarton cares for her three grandchildren, as her own kids were unable to cope.

As one of 20,000 kinship carers around the country, she knows the many difficulties faced by those who take young relatives into their care.

And with this week being Carers Week, shes asking for more recognition for the role they play in making sure the most vulnerable of children get the upbringing they deserve.

“I have two children who have got learning difficulties,” she said.

“In 2005, I took care of my daughters eldest daughter, who had just turned five and was two weeks into school.

“We ticked along fine and I was still working as a university lecturer.

“But in 2006, I knew the situation at my sons house also wasn’t great and it got to the point where I got a phone call to go down there.

“That year I got the care of his two children. I was promised all kinds of support and help and initially that was there but I was still hanging on to my job by a thread.

“Very soon after that I decided I had to give up my work.”

Having struggled to find the support she needed, Anne set up the West Dunbartonshire Kinship Carers Support Group.

“It changes your whole life,” she said. “I had a job, I had a career, financially I was fine, I was going on holidays, I was going out with friends.

“Overnight, it can all go. Your friendships disappear because you can’t get up and go somewhere as you used to.

“You’re back to picking the kids up at the school gates and you lose a lot of contact. Nobody really understands what kinship carers go through and that’s why we need support.”

According to Alison Todd, the children and family services director at Children 1st, it is a common situation.

She said: “For many, it’s something that’s thrust upon them, often at short notice, or sometimes they’ve stepped in when they’ve recognised there was an issue that they had to do something about. That’s what makes it different to foster caring. The other difference is that foster carers get a lot of support, both financially and in terms of advice, training and support.

“For kinship carers, there isn’t the same level of preparation or support.”

Dumbarton mum-of-two Catherine MacArthur, 55, tells a similar story. She cares for her nieces daughter Jordan, 10. She said: “When Jordan was about two months old her mum asked if I would look after her for the odd night.

“It reached the stage where I would have Jordan for two or three weeks at a time and, after a social worker got involved, I ended up looking after her permanently.

“When she was six, I got a full residence order and since then shes not had any contact with her mother.

“But Jordan’s a very bubbly girl and she’s absolutely brilliant. She’s a great kid and I’ve been proud to bring her up as my own.”

For others, such as 64-year-old George Drain, raising a second young family takes a great deal of adjustment.

The father-of-four and his wife Anne care for grandkids Dion, 13, Alistair, 10, Louis, seven, and Geordan, five.

“Having raised your own family you begin thinking you can start doing more things and going out more,” he said. “But all of a sudden, you can’t, as you’re starting again from scratch.

“You go through a whole learning process as things have changed to when you were raising your own children.”

Alison said help is available for kinship carers.

“The National Kinship Care Helpline is available through our Parentline service, and it’s open seven days a week,” she said. “We hopefully have all the information and resources they need. But the thing that always strikes me is the love they have for the children in their care and the fact that they wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Carers such as 46-year-old widow Susan Montgomery fit the bill perfectly.

The Balloch mum-of-four cares for six-year-old grandson Callum. She said: “I’ve been a kinship carer for five years and, although it has been tough and it’s not always easy, it does have rewards.

“It’s great getting up in the morning as Callum is a smiling, happy-go-lucky child and he has changed my life.

“My kids were all grown up so I was on my own, so looking after Callum has transformed things.

“You never expect to be raising your own grandchild, and nothing can prepare you for it.

“Callum loves school and hes very active. He loves playing football, he loves golf and he goes swimming, so I feel that its a really positive thing in my life.

“I enjoy those things with him and we have a great relationship. He’s very well settled and his happiness is the most important thing.”

To contact the Kinship care helpline at ParentLine Scotland, call 08000
28 22 33. For more information, visit


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