Jenny was in her early 50s and was looking forward to an upcoming trip to Paris when she received a phone call from her son, Jake*, at 10 o’clock at night. What followed changed the direction of Jenny’s life in a way she had never anticipated.
Jake had recently visited his ex-partner, who looked after their baby Emma* and a toddler step-daughter, Sophie*. While there he realised his ex-partner was intoxicated, that there were drugs and strangers in the house, and Emma’s cries were going unnoticed. Jenny went to the house herself and saw how unsafe the children were. She managed to get Emma out of danger when a violent scuffle in the house broke out.
“I had this crying baby at home and no formula, no nappies, nothing,” Jenny says.
After Jenny had finally gotten Emma back to her home and to sleep, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) called at 4am to ask if she could take Sophie too.
Jenny cancelled her trip to Paris. Her son Jake, her granddaughter Emma and her step granddaughter Sophie moved in with her, and she began her journey as a kinship carer.
In Jenny’s own words, it was challenging at first. Jenny and Jake had to face the child protection system alone and were unsure if the girls would be able to stay with them. “I lost four kilos from stress and worrying about what was going to happen,” Jenny says. Luckily, it was ruled that the girls would stay with Jenny and Jake.
Jenny has three children who are now adults but quickly realised that kinship care was different to motherhood. “I found it strange that I was asked to do a parenting course!” Jenny says.
Luckily, OzChild found Jenny and provided a case worker to help and support her as a kinship carer. OzChild also offered support groups and specialist training for kinship carers, which Jenny wasn’t sure about at first but decided to give it a try.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” Jenny says. “You realise you’re not the only ones going through this situation. I came out with better friends and we understand each other.”
The support groups talk about all sorts of issues: child behaviour, managing a relationship with your own children and information about upcoming training.
“I’ve used every opportunity OzChild has offered, because the more tools that you’ve got on your belt, the better you are and prepared to help the children in your care.” Jenny explains.
Remembering how alone she felt when she first started kinship care, Jenny is now dedicated to making positive change for other carers. She joined OzChild’s Kinship Advocacy program and became a mentor, is one of two kinship carers on the Carer Advisory Board to the Department of Health and Human Services, and also hosts a social morning tea every fortnight for grandparents to socialise and speak freely in a safe space.
“I tell them it’s okay to feel like you can’t do it, or it’s going to be too hard,” Jenny says. “I give them reassurance.”
“You can have a good life with children in your care.”
Emma and Sophie are now in primary school. Emma plays AFL while Sophie is more into performing arts.
“It’s been a lot of hard work for Nanna,” Jenny laughs. “I had to learn to put wigs on and do makeup.”
When she first saw her granddaughter on stage for her first competition, Jenny burst into tears. The mums in the audience thought she was nervous for Emma, but that wasn’t the reason.
“They didn’t understand my journey and her battles,” Jenny says. “To see her all dressed up, singing and dancing on stage… I was just so proud. She’s blossomed.”
Although Emma and Sophie’s relatives live scattered around regional Victoria, Jenny drives them around to ensure that they’re still connected to their family. It’s worth it. “Their little faces when they saw their half-sister and little niece, it just melted my heart,” Jenny reflects.
Seeing Emma and Sophie achieve their goals and smiling are Jenny’s favourite parts of being a kinship carer.
“It’s been very hard work balancing being the mother and the Nanna but I believe that I’ve got it right,” Jenny beams. “It’s very rewarding. If I had a bigger house, I probably would be a foster carer. Every child deserves a chance.”
Today, Jenny is one of OzChild’s best advocates and supporters. She is an active, passionate member of OzChild’s Kinship Advocacy and Mentoring Program (KAMP) and probably our biggest fan on Facebook – always the first to post a kind response and remind people of our kinship carers.
“I had to struggle through those first few years and that’s why I want to be involved in advocacy,” Jenny says. “It’s so important to have somebody that you can vent to.”
* Names have been changed to protect privacy
For more information or to donate and support our kinship carers, please ask for our information and advice worker on (03) 9212 5600.
Find out more about kinship care.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy