Becon Whakatane by Judy Turner MP
“Don’t think it couldn’t happen to you” is the line Dianne Vivian regularly uses when speaking in public about her life.
In 1997 Diane took on the job of raising two grandchildren. Her situation caring for traumatised children was overwhelming, and in desperation she ran an advert in a local paper to see if she could connect with anyone else in the same circumstances. The phone hasn’t stop ringing.
‘Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust NZ’ is now in 43 centres throughout New Zealand, including Whakatane. They run an information and support service for the thousands of amazing Grandparents who have given up a big chunk of their lives to step into the breach created by their children who are clearly unfit to safely care for their own children.
The challenges are devastating. Typically these Grandparents fall into two categories. Super-annuitants on low fixed incomes, and those in their late 40’s and 50’s, who are potentially in their prime earning years, accumulating a retirement fund. Instead they often have to give up paid work to change nappies and coach netball teams again. They can usually get the Unsupported Childs Benefit, but it is substantially less than is paid for Foster-Care, and without the additional allowances paid for Foster Care.
Those who have already down-sized to a small, low maintenance retirement property, find themselves back at the bank signing up for a mortgage so that they can set up a family home again.
Then there are the legal bills! Keeping the grandchildren safe from their dysfunctional parent’s, eats away any nest-egg they may have saved. The stress associated with this is immense.
Many experience social isolation as they don’t quite fit in with the young Mums and Dads at Kindy and School, and old friends stop including them in their plans, because they have to bring the kids.
Those that are in second marriages, find their new partner understandably resistant to the unplanned responsibilities. Their other children and grandchildren feel short-changed as well. Significant relationships are strained to breaking point.
Then there are the children themselves. The circumstances that put them at risk have left their scars. Neglect and abuse have usually characterised their early years. Learning, behavioural and significant health problems are common. In short, these kids are not easy to manage and it is difficult to find anyone to take them for a weekend every now and then, so that the grandparents can get a break.
One of the nice things for most grandparents is that you can ‘hand them back’ at the end of the day. Grandparents raising grandchildren can’t. But their love is undeniable.
The plight of kinship caregivers is well documented both in international studies and within the NZ context. There are some simple policies that could be implemented to ease their load. Full Foster Care status should be afforded the children once permanent care arrangements are established and legal aid and respite care should be their right. I don’t apologise for being a dripping tap in the Minister’s ear on this matter.
By Lisa Mills
GISBORNE Greypower members are calling on the Government to offer more financial support to grandparents looking after grandchildren and to put an end to what they describe as "blatant discrimination".
The call comes following the national Greypower annual meeting at Auckland where members heard from the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust.
Gisborne Greypower member Lex Gordon said he was shocked to hear some grandparents had lost their homes because of the financial burden placed on them because they were looking after their grandchildren.
The group now wants the Government to increase the unsupported child benefit to equal the amount paid to foster parents.
"We are not saying foster parents should get any less just that grandparents looking after their grandchildren should be getting the same," Mr Gordon said.
"The children are entitled to a life and at the moment there would be more financial benefit if they were living with strangers," he said.
Census 2001 figures show over 4000 grandparents had taken on the role of parent to their grandchildren.
As Gisborne had the highest proportion of youth in New Zealand, it was believed there would be some financial "horror stories" to match those in other parts of the country.
Mr Gordon said in many cases grandparents who had taken on the role of parenting their grandchildren had no money left. Some had to sell their homes as a result, he said. "If they were foster parents things would be a different.
"They would be able to access all the extras that could make a difference for the child."
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust national convenor Diane Vivian said there had not been a support group in Gisborne for about five years and the trust was keen to see one reinstated.
Grandparents raising grandchildren was a wide-spread issue not only in New Zealand but around the world.
"Although the Government is to raise the unsupported child benefit by $15 a week in 2005 it is still behind what foster parents receive," she said. "There is a significant number of grandparents raising their grandchildren as primary caregivers. The trust has 2300 members and that number is growing everyday."
Foster parents received about $30 more a week and special benefits, Mrs Vivian said.
One of the main issues faced by caregiver grandparents was the children came at a time when income was diminishing but the child's needs were growing.
There was also the issue of legal costs, with some grandparents spending up to $120,000 battling for custody of their grandchildren often to protect them from severe social, emotional and psychological problems.
Because many grandparents had an asset they were not entitled to legal aid but their children were, said Mrs Vivian. That meant parents could keep challenging for custody in the Family Court, she said. Some grandparents had lost their homes or had been forced to downgrade because of financial worries. Mrs Vivian supported the call for financial equality. "These are the grandparents who take on this role out of love and concern for the two generations of children involved."
The Gisborne Herald