THE BLOG
17/10/2015 13:28 BST | Updated 16/10/2016 06:12 BST

Bringing Up a Family Member's Child Is Not Easy - My Grandma Taught Me That

No one knows what the future holds - one day our lives could be great, the next day everything could fall apart. Any one of us could end up raising a child from our extended family and for some, most notably grandparents and older siblings, becoming a kinship carer is no easy task.

Looking back at my upbringing, there have been times when I have had to pinch myself and thank my lucky stars that I made it.

When I was a four-year old child, my older sister (five) and I went to live with my grandmother. My mother was unable to care for us and we never knew our father.

I have great memories of being cared for by my granny - living behind a bus station, picking strawberries in the summer and playing hopscotch with my sister. However, a few months after moving in with her, she died, and we were taken to a local children's home.

I spent the next 13 years travelling from one children's home to the next, attending 11 different schools. I did have family, in fact quite a large extended family, but to this day I still have difficulty understanding why my sister and I were left to grow up in care.

One of the hardest challenges I faced was at the age of 12 when my sister and I were separated. My sister went to live with a foster family while I remained in the children's home. That said, my experience of care was good. I was treated well and for that I am grateful.

I finally left care at the age of 17 at a time when there were no aftercare services. As a result I ended up homeless and had to sleep rough. With no family to call upon and a relationship with my sister that had become increasingly distant, my outlook on life was bleak. I could have easily went down a very different path than the one that led me to where I am today.

It is 20 years since I left care and I feel proud for what I have achieved. I have four degrees, including three at postgraduate level, a son in the final year of his first degree, and a job that I love. I am the Founder and CEO of the award winning charity 'Kinship Care Northern Ireland' which supports children without parental care to live within their own families and communities. I put my success down to luck and meeting the right people at the worst times in my life.

I often think about my granny and what it must have been like for her to become a parent again, especially at such a late stage in her life. Like the kinship carers I work with, she would have experienced a deep sense of guilt and shame. She would have felt embarrassed about the situation she had found herself in and she would have lost contact with her friends and other social networks. More likely than not, she would have worried about money and how she was going to feed, clothe and care for two small children on her own.

No one knows what the future holds - one day our lives could be great, the next day everything could fall apart. Any one of us could end up raising a child from our extended family and for some, most notably grandparents and older siblings, becoming a kinship carer is no easy task.

My sister died three years ago. She is likely a statistic now in some government policy paper concerning those who grew up in care and didn't make it. That is something I will have to learn to accept. Me? Well, I am on course to building the best kinship care charity in the world - one which removes the stigma and embarrassment that so many kinship carers experience in their day to day lives and one which gives children every opportunity imaginable for them to thrive and succeed.

Then I think I will write a book!

Kinship Care Northern Ireland is shortlisted for the Centre for Social Justice Awards 2015, which recognise UK charities that display innovation and effectiveness in addressing the root causes of poverty, transforming lives and reversing social breakdown. The Huffington Post UK is the media partner for the awards