Jacqueline Williamson

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Ireland
Fellow since 2016
This description of Jacqueline Williamson's work was prepared when Jacqueline Williamson was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016 .

Introduction

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The New Idea

Jacqueline Williamson is transforming the foster care system of Northern Ireland to place young people at the center and provide a better quality of life for children in difficult family situations, and for those who care for them. With Kinship Care Northern Ireland (KCNI), Jacqueline is redefining the traditional state care provision by placing the best interests of kinship carers and the child at the core of her organisation’s work. In contrast to the State’s provision of support to kinship carers, or lack thereof, KCNI provides a range of support to families in Kinship Care arrangements to improve their quality of life. She runs a number of programmes to support the financial, physical and mental wellbeing of some of the most impoverished and stigmatised children and carers in Northern Ireland.

Through KCNI, kinship carers can navigate a system and capitalise on it, utilising a clear path to supports such as a free telephone helpline service, training, a drop in service, counselling and support groups. KCNI also support carers in applying for residence orders to entitle them to benefits, and walk them through that process. KCNI provide child specific support in the form of life skills programmes, peer support programmes and mentorship arrangements. At the same time, Jacqueline has created a powerful arm to influence top level policy in Northern Ireland. Jacqueline is mobilising children and families who have crafted their own solutions to difficult situations to build a community of support, a menu of services, and a collective voice to change policy for the better. Research and lobbying is a core aspect of Jacqueline’s work in KCNI, and she advocates for the rights of the children left behind by the care system.

Jacqueline’s organization, Kinship Care NI, has established itself as an antidote – working with children to find solutions that work for them, preserving the family bond, creating structures of support and building a community – a movement of sorts – to support each other in this unique set up.