Support, I feel, is an undervalued word. I
have always felt that carers never get the support necessary, and I
don’t just mean professional support. Yes, it is true that there
are foster care networks and support groups that operate on both a
formal and informal basis. But for a grandparent who is the main
carer of his grandchildren, for instance, there is no specific
group or network.

I will not dwell on the circumstances, save to
say that our grandchildren’s parents are dead. The children went
through a succession of foster parents before my wife and I took
responsibility for them. But that was not before we had endured
years of pain and rejection from a social services department that
did not feel it appropriate for the children to be placed with

A change of management and social worker
resulted in a change of thinking and approach, but what was not
accounted for was the emotional damage that my wife and myself had
sustained. Being told we were not appropriate carers for the
children five years before, and then being told we were, was
confusing for the children and us. It caused pressure on our
marriage. When the children’s expectations of permanency with
ourselves came to fruition, it could not be realised. My wife was
emotionally drained and unable to look after the children. But the
children were committed to living with us. What could I do?

I could not see two children I loved deeply,
having endured abuse and rejection themselves, suffer more. My wife
and I had been through a great deal, but I simply could not let the
children go through further emotional upheaval and uncertainty.
Therefore, I was forced to take an option that was painful but
necessary – I chose the children.

Social services were very good in providing
financial support and professional social work support, but I have
not had the opportunity of support from other carers. I have not
had the opportunity of seeking out people who have had similar
experiences. I know that my wife and I (we are currently separated)
would concur with the feelings of many grandparents, who have a
full-time responsibility for looking after their grandchildren,
that their contribution is neither recognised nor valued. There are
too many variables in deciding how children in these circumstances
should be cared for, with too much discretion for local
authorities. Some discretion is important in addressing individual
needs and particular circumstances, but I do feel that national
guidelines are necessary.

More and more grandparents undertake either
part- or full-time care for their children’s children and this
needs to be recognised. Raising the national profile of
grandparents as carers would help to achieve normality in the lives
of children raised in extraordinary circumstances.

Bernie Walsh is a grandparent and
social worker.

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