New Year’s Honours for Kinsfolk Carer

EDINBURGH, 1 JANUARY 2015 – Among the New Year's Honours, Edinburgh resident Yvonne Ramsey has become only the second ever citizen to be awarded the British Empire Medal for services to kinship care. The medal, which is awarded for meritorious civil service, recognises Yvonne's exceptional dedication and relentless hard work in supporting kinship carers in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland.

1 January 2015 | Kinship care

Kinship care is an arrangement where a child or young person lives with a relative or family friend because they are unable to live with their birth parents. Because kinship care arrangements are often sudden and a result of emotionally traumatic events for the child, carers face a range of difficulties relating to finance, housing and challenging behaviour. There are a wide variety of circumstances that lead to kinship care, both in Scotland and worldwide; in Yvonne’s case, she took on the care of her granddaughter on account of her daughter’s ongoing substance misuse.

Yvonne now works as a family support worker for the alcohol and drug prevention charity, Mentor, who run several projects that support kinship carers. However, in August 1997, when Yvonne first started to care for her granddaughter, there was little such support.

Being a kinship carer can be tremendously challenging. Yvonne had to manage the complex emotional needs of her granddaughter, understand legal rights and establish financial entitlements, all while attempting to deal with the tempestuous behaviour of her own daughter. After this combination of issues contributed to the breakdown of her marriage, and with no assistance or advice from social services, she felt completely isolated.

In September 2003 she formed a small peer support group....today the Kinsfolk Carers has grown to total 370 members.

Through sheer determination, Yvonne took it upon herself to learn about kinship care, to read research papers, legislation and local authority policy. She discovered that there were hundreds, possibly thousands of others like her – caring for a child with complex behavioural needs, completely isolated and unsupported. So in September 2003 she formed a small peer support group for kinship carers in Edinburgh to bring together people experiencing similar difficulties and emotions – a place “to have a coffee and a blether” and, hopefully, to come away feel better for sharing your problems.

Each week the numbers grew. Yvonne contacted the council to mediate around specific cases; the group set up a website and secured charitable status as ‘Kinsfolk Carers’ in 2005, enabling them to raise vital funds to help new kinship carers afford beds, clothes and other basic necessities. Yvonne also established an emergency phone number, advertised on the website, so that every kinship carer could access advice and support 24-hours a day.

Today the Kinsfolk Carers has grown to total 370 members, and Yvonne now receives calls from the length and breadth of Scotland – all of which are received no matter the time, day or night. Since receiving recognition from Edinburgh Council and being invited to represent kinship carers on Edinburgh’s multi-advisory group, she now often receives calls for advice from the very social work department that was unable to help her when she first became a carer.

As the organisation has grown, Yvonne has directed the organisation’s fundraising efforts at providing family outings for carers and children who are otherwise unable to afford such activities, and ensuring every year that all kinship care children she knows receive gifts at Christmas and eggs at Easter. And she has built up all of this while caring for her granddaughter and supporting her three children and four other grandchildren.

Being a kinship carer is hard, but if I can help ease that difficulty in some way and let them know that there is support out there then I am happy.

Yvonne Ramsey

Earlier in the year, Yvonne began to work for Mentor, a charity who is the Scottish government’s strategic partner on kinship care. Mentor runs a family support programme, which provides a range of services, from financial advice to family days out and dedicated one-on-one work, to kinship carers in Edinburgh and the Lothians. The charity has also carried out several kinship-focused research projects and is currently working with the Scottish government and the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) to coproduce a toolkit of resources that offer information, advice and practical strategies for managing the challenges of kinship care.

Today’s landscape is very different to 17 years ago: kinship carers have greater recognition for the role they perform, and several local and national charities now dedicate resources to supporting kinship families. Although Yvonne herself received no help whatsoever, her unique achievements in building up a dynamic support network from scratch played a huge part in changing the landscape, to ensure that there is more support for kinship carers today. However, her own assessment is modest and, perhaps, reveals more about Yvonne than any of the words that have come before: “Being a kinship carer is hard, but if I can help ease that difficulty in some way and let them know that there is support out there then I am happy.”

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