Frances Rowan and her husband took on the care of her cousin’s two daughters in May 2016. As part of Mentor’s Kinship Care Week, Frances shared her experience of becoming a kinship carer and some advice for new kinship carers.
My cousin’s daughters were 7 and 9 when they came to live with us. They were removed from their mother’s care due to continued incidents caused by prolonged alcohol and drug addiction. The family was supported by the Local Authority for a prolonged period, until they were removed due to neglect, non-attendance at school and fear for their safety.
A younger relative looked after them for a period of weeks, but was unable to offer longer term care. Foster care was sought for the children, however, this can be difficult to find when there is a sibling group so they might have had to go to a residential home.
My husband and I found out about the situation through extended family. We had the space in the house, the time and the family support – but we lived in a completely different city. So we contacted the Local Authority to see if we would be an option. We took them in an emergency situation, so from us saying to social workers that we might be able to offer the children a home, to them actually being in our house, was literally only a week.
My husband and I don’t have any children of our own, and we had no experience of looking after children, so it’s been a spectacular learning curve just learning about how to look after a child, never mind the added extra of two children who’d come from very difficult circumstances.
They didn’t understand boundaries, structures, routine.
Their background had created a lot of problems, and it quickly became apparent that the girls had behavioural and emotional issues. The elder child had been forced into a caring role, looking after their mum and the house, so she was acting more like a teenager. The younger one had completely regressed emotionally, acting more like you’d expect a 4-year old to behave.
They didn’t understand boundaries, structures, routine – things like why they had to go to school, eat good food or go to bed at certain times. I came from a world where, if your mum tells you to do something, you do it, and they just didn’t understand why I was asking them to do something or why they should do it.
There was also a massive practical struggle for me and my husband, to go from a two-person household to suddenly coping with double the amount of cleaning, shopping, cooking, picking up the children from school. Thankfully, we’ve proven to be a really good team, but you have to remember to look after yourself and your own relationship as well, and not let this new responsibility take on your whole life and marriage.
I am amazed at their resilience – I cannot believe they are the same children that came to stay with us.
The biggest triumphs for us have actually been all the small things that have changed: when a child who wouldn’t even go to school now knows how to get up in the morning, to put on their school uniform, have breakfast, brush their teeth, pack a school bag and get to school on time – that’s incredible. It’s made me appreciate my own parenting – you take for granted the life skills your parents teach you from a very early age.
It has been the biggest challenge of my life, looking after the girls. But the children have adapted spectacularly well.
I am amazed at their resilience – I cannot believe they are the same children that came to stay with us. They’re happy, they’re doing really well a school. And all the behavioural issues are gone. Through love, support, boundaries, perseverance, open conversation, fun – just letting them have a normal, boring life – we have changed their behaviour entirely. I’m not a professional, I don’t understand psychology, but I know what it means to be part of a loving family. And that was the most important thing that they needed.
Watch the video below to hear more of Frances’ story: