Kinship carer Charlie crowned a Teesside Hero

May 5th, 2016

A former steelworker who set up a Middlesbrough group to support children cared for by family members when their parents are no longer able to do so has been recognised with a Teesside Hero award.

Charlie Saunders set up Kinship Carers with friend Frank Stanton after meeting others who, like him, took in their grandchildren when they were threatened with being taken into care.

Charlie, who lives in Beechwood, Middlesbrough, took early retirement some years ago to look after his poorly wife Barbara and their three grandchildren, Taylor, Amelia and Mackenzie.

But it continues to be a tough challenge to bring up his grandchildren – now aged 13, 12 and eight – without any of the financial support that foster carers receive.

“There was a danger the three kids would be taken into care, but we couldn’t do that to our own grandchildren,” said Charlie. “It was an easy decision for us to make, but there has been no support from Social Services and no financial help to tap into.

“It would be completely different if I was a foster carer, so it doesn’t seem right that we get no help at all. At our age in life and with no income to support us, it’s tough.”

Realising many other grandparents and family members were suffering similar hardships, Charlie set up Kinship Carers, initially in Beechwood but now spreading its wings across Teesside.

He said: “Situations like ours are happening all over Middlesbrough, Teesside and the rest of the country, often influenced by drugs and alcohol abuse leading to relationship breakdown. There are 300,000 children in kinship care in the UK, with the biggest percentage here in the North East.

“It’s a disgrace that we are discriminated against because we are family members who stepped in when the parents could no longer look after the children. When children are taken into care it costs the state thousands of pounds, and foster carers receive lots of financial support to pay for essential costs. But grandparents and other family members get nothing.

“We’re now helping 40 local children, mainly in Middlesbrough. We aim to improve the kids’ lives, whether that’s via day trips, parties or holidays.

“Our next big challenge is to get Social Services and other organisations to recognise Kinship Carers as an official body so that we can make a difference together, rather than fighting lone battles.”

Charlie received his Teesside Hero award in a surprise presentation by Harriet Spalding of the Mandale Group, a patron of charitable body Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.

“It’s fantastic to win an award like this,” he said. “But I’m not doing this for myself. It’s for the kids and the fantastic group of people who are part of Kinship Carers. Hopefully we can make a real difference for the kids. We certainly aim to do that.”

As part of his Teesside Hero prize, Charlie received £1,000 for Kinship Carers, which will go towards the cost of taking 40 children on a break to Butlin’s in Skegness, a trip that will cost around £12,000.

Charlie was nominated for the award by Councillor Joan McTigue, who said: “Despite the fact that he and his wife have three grandchildren to bring up, Charlie works tirelessly for Kinship Carers. He doesn’t need to do this at his age but that’s Charlie for you – ready to answer the call for help from people in similar or worse circumstances. If only we had more Charlie Saunders in this town.”

Charlie received a trophy and a meal voucher for Mohujo’s Mexican restaurant along with the £1,000 donation for Kinship Carers.

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