Coming to the end of her year of office as Londonderry’s Woman of the Year 2014, Jacqueline Williamson, from Kinship Care, has had an amazing year.
The latest success story for the charity, which helps families stay together when bereavement makes things difficult, is a cookery book, ‘Din Dins’ by five children associated with Kinship Care, who have called themselves the Mini Kins.
The book, which was launched this week, features 11 recipes which the children put together themselves, together with features and images showing how the children put the recipes and the book together.
Officially launched on Monday, in conjunction with Big Lottery and Big Lunch, Jacqueline, who is the manager at Kinship Care, is delighted with the children’s efforts calling it “a great book”.
For the past year the charity has been based at Carlisle Road, where the four-storey building has been brightly decorated to provide children and young people, as well as their carers with a warm, welcoming environment, in which to seek support and help. Such is the success of the charity, that Jacqueline confided that she thinks the group may have to move to bigger premises in the not too distant future.
“I would say we are going to be moving out within the next year,” she said, continuing: “We have lots of children and young people coming through our doors; we have had 126 children through here in the last year alone.”
Asked how her year had been since winning the accolade, Jacqueline said her year has been “quite interesting”.
“I think the Woman of the Year Award has raised the profile of myself as an individual and my own personal story of growing up in care and in setting up an organisation, but I think, most importantly, what I think it has done is that it has raised the profile and raised awareness of Kinship Care and some of the experiences that families go through and particularly children when their own parents cannot look after them and they go to live with members of their extended family.
“I think the awards have been very, very effective in doing that at a local level. In terms of recognition, I have to say I am not one of these people who looks for a public image. I am quite happy to sit at a computer and do all the background work and change the world that way, but it has bene fantastic insomuch that it has given a lot of publicity to the organisation. We had a number of features that came on after it, we have had a lot of Kinship Carers and children that have come through the services as a result of that win.”
Describing the setting up of the organisation from scratch as “very hard work”, Jacqueline continued: “I never, ever realised how hard it was going to be, but it is easy when you actually care and your heart is in the issue. I work possibly 70 hours a week, but it doesn’t feel like that to me. It is the small achievements that make it worthwhile. This week we got a child previously refused access into a local primary school into that school by writing to the Minister for Health and all the MLAs in the Committee for Education. We can go home knowing that we have made a small different to that child. That child now, as a result of getting that school place can be cared for full time and experience a settle home life with their older sibling,” she said by ay of explanation.
Asked what it meant for someone to be able to come to an organisation like Kinship Care and get help, knowing that the person in charge understood their needs, Jacqueline said: “I think it is very important. Kinship carers are a very marginalised and isolate group in society anyway. They have already gone through quite an ordeal, and they have ended up in some situations in a system they neither trust nor understand. We find that kinship carers do get pushed from pillar to post and add to that there is a lot of stigma, a lot of embarrassment and a lot of shame and guilt that is associated with kinship care. There are a lot of grandparents raising their grandchildren who think to themselves that they cannot have been a very good parent if they have ended up raising their children’s children. That’s not true at all.
“We find they may not be very resilient as individuals, and that their confidence is often very low and they are very protective of the children that they care for, so trying to engage that child and support that carer is extremely difficult,” Jacqueline said.
What they get when they meet Jacqueline and her team is that they have experience of kinship caring from Trustee level right down to the staff and volunteer levels.
“They come in and immediately they are meeting other kinship carers, who have been through the exact same circumstances as them and they have come out the other end in a much better position,” she said.
Kinship Care attracts and is open to families from all communities, which Jacqueline says is of vital importance to the organisation.
“The thing about kinship caring is that children across all communities can end up living with family members,it is not particularly associated with one community or another. That is very, very important to us as an organisation,” she said.
Kinship Care can be contacted at 67 Carlisle Road, Londonderry, BT46 6JL, and by telephoning 02871 373731.