Archive Article: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. 22 March 02
January 3, 2009

This has been Seniors Week and we have been acknowledging the contribution that older Australians make to the community.

Older people in Australia get a raw deal from the economists. There are various complaints about whether “we can afford the elderly” because of the costs of providing pensions etc. But the economists do not take into consideration the contribution that older Australians make to the community. For example, the second largest providers of childcare are older Australians. Parents come first; grandparents come second. The professional organizations are a long way back.

I have just been reading a thoughtful New Zealand book on the importance of grandparents: ” grandparents raising grandchildren.pdf: A Handbook for Grandparents and other Kin Caregivers”. It is written by Jill Worrall, herself a grandmother, foster mother and a university lecturer in social work.

Thousands of New Zealand grandparents have taken total responsibility for their grandchildren. This is not just the visit to grandparents for holidays and the weekend (about which we all have happy memories). This is total responsibility.

Under New Zealand child protection law, there is a requirement that children should be placed within their extended family when in need of care, in order that they may know their identity and experience a healthy sense of belonging. In a great many cases, it is grandparents who take on the care giving role. While some grandparents become caregivers as a result of a legal care and protection process, many others have just taken their grandchildren into their care in response to a family crisis, without any formal or legal intervention.

Grandparents have special needs that are not necessarily shared by other caregivers. Taking on small, often traumatized grandchildren in the later part of a life is no small task. The decision to care has, for many, been life changing and grandparents have felt isolated and alone.

In 1999 Diane Vivian took over the care of her small, traumatized grandchildren. She looked around to see what assistance was available from official sources. She soon found that that there was no official assistance. It seems that there had been this increasing trend for some grandparents to take over caring for the grandchildren but there had been no official recognition of this social trend.

Diane Vivian helped create the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust, which has 25 local groups across New Zealand. Other groups are springing up now that the word is getting out. The groups offer grandparents help and hope and have been formed by grandparents for grandparents.

This Trust has published Jill Worrall’s book. The book deals with nuts and bolts of caregiving. Its four chapters cover: becoming a grandparent care-giver; coping with the effects of abuse and neglect; understanding the legal issues and getting help; and meeting your grandchildren’s needs and taking care of yourselves. The contents focus on the particular needs of grandparents raising grandchildren but other kin caregivers may also find the informational useful.

Overall, this is a very important publication to cope with a trend that is – alas – now on the increase in New Zealand because of family breakdown. The book also contains information that would be of assistance to Australian grandparents.