Telling the stories of Nan Kids

Telling the stories of Nan Kids

This week (4 - 10 October 2021) is Kinship Care Week, an annual event to celebrate and raise awareness of the contributions of kinship carers. These are the grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings and family friends who step in to take on carers’ responsibilities when birthparents are unable to fulfil those roles. In the UK today, there are nearly 200,000 children being raised in kinship care families.

Leon (centre) with Nan Kids Alicia (left) and Adèle (right) (photograph taken by Ilmė VyšniauskaitėDownload image
"Prior to researching my trip, like many, I’d never heard the term ‘kinship care’, despite being born into these circumstances." - Leon Clowes, Fellow

Such interventions can often prevent children and teenagers from having to be fostered or put into care, but sadly, kinship carers’ contributions to society are woefully under-recognised.

Most of us fundamentally understand that it’s no small matter becoming a parent and that, as Michele Chappel of Grandparent Family Apartments in the Bronx said to me, “If a child has to be brought up by grandparents, it’s never for a good reason.”

The Churchill Fellowship has a pioneering history in the field of kinship care. In 1999, Fellow Jean Stogdon visited the USA to learn more about social worker practices across the water. Her research trip led to the creation of the UK charity Kinship, which now runs the Kinship Care Week.

My own Fellowship was a personal journey. My mother was 14 when she gave birth to me. It had been agreed before I was born that I was to be adopted by my maternal grandparents. In 2012, thanks to the Churchill Fellowship, I travelled the USA, meeting families like my own and the professionals who work with us. I was witness to the incredible strength shown by many. This included a 21-year-old whose parents had been murdered, and a great-grandmother of 85 raising a 5-year-old as there was no way she would let the boy be put into care.

To say the least, the experience was humbling. Often, I felt way out of my depth.

Prior to researching my trip, like many, I’d never heard the term ‘kinship care’, despite being born into these circumstances. I was aged 40 by then.

The lack of public awareness about kinship care hasn’t changed much. Young people who took part in the 2017 Kinship/Hamlyn report Growing Up In Kinship Care expressed a wish “to be heard and to be understood”. The report’s authors identified a need for “greater awareness of the situation of young people in kinship care”. So, why this lack of wider awareness of kinship care?

There are several possible reasons. The family arrangement may be informal and it may be temporary. Some families can feel a sense of shame. Sometimes the guardians are concerned that children might be put into other forms of care.

From my own lived experience, and from speaking to others, I suspect this lack of understanding can negatively impact us and lead to mental health issues. And as an artist storyteller, I want to highlight some of our stories through my project Nan Kids.

Nan Kids is a moniker for a children raised in kinship care, from a comedy routine by Russell Brand, who was raised at various points by his grandmothers. From 4-10 October, coinciding with Kinship Care Week, I’ll be posting online each day about a different Nan Kid telling their own life story.

Reel Rebels Radio is run by another Nan Kid, Alicia Graham. She’s been collaborating with kinship caregiver and visual artist Piyagarn Odunukwe, to explore family and friendship trees, and I’m honoured to be on a panel where the two will be discussing their artistic exchange. All are welcome to the event in Hackney at 3pm on Saturday 9 October.

I was recently interviewed about Nan Kids and my upbringing by Naomi Woddis for the creativity and mental health podcast, The Two Of Us. This will first be broadcast on Tuesday 5 October from 7pm-8pm on Reel Rebels Radio, then available from the next day as a podcast.

Nan Kids has been made possible because of support from Sound and Music, Arts Council England, Deptford X and SPILL Festivals. From 28-31 October at 2.30pm every day I’ll be presenting Nan Kid stories performance installations in Ipswich Art Gallery at SPILL Festival. There will also be a listening post of Nan Kid story extracts in the same gallery throughout the festival.

This all began because of the Churchill Fellowship, the trip that changed my life. One of the people I connected with in the USA in 2012 is one of the Nan Kids interviewees next week. Jessie will share about her family life in Utah as a former Morman.

If you would like to hear about my podcasts when they are all available online, please email me at leon.clowes@gmail.com or sign up to my website.

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.

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