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Grandparent-carers count the cost of a broken Budget pledge

Tuesday May 30, 2006
By Simon Collins

Grandparents raising grandchildren say they feel "betrayed" by the Government's failure to carry out an election promise to pay some of them the same as other foster parents.
Social Development Minister David Benson-Pope told Otago pensioners Adrian and Leonie Vogel last December that the "long-standing anomaly" between relatives and non-kin foster parents would be addressed in this year's Budget.
Labour's social policy at the last election, launched by Prime Minister Helen Clark at an Otahuhu family centre last September, promised that about 700 grandparent-carers receiving superannuation would get the same payments as other foster parents.
But the Budget has come and gone with nothing for grandparents.
At present they and other "kin carers" get only the unsupported child benefit of between $97 and $133 a week, an average of about $20 a week less than the foster care rates.
Mangere grandmother Virginia Peebles, 65, who has cared for her 13-year-old grandson James single-handedly since her husband went into hospital after a stroke 3 1/2 years ago, said she struggled to cope on her present income of $327 a week - $203 a week for her half of the couple's super, plus $124 in unsupported child benefit.
"If you saw my lace curtains at the moment ... I wouldn't dare wash them because they would fall apart," she said.
"If I got the higher rates, I would be able to say, 'Right, in two months I could buy those new curtains'. It would mean that we could put money aside to have a holiday."
James, who is almost 2m, has Asperger's syndrome and the mental powers of an eight-year-old. He attends Mt Richmond Special School.
At first, both Mrs Peebles and her husband were working, but her husband's stroke changed that. Mrs Peebles herself has arthritis and has had both hips and both knees replaced.
She said she had been "waiting very patiently" for the extra $20 a week and felt "very let down" when there was nothing in the Budget.
"We are swept under the carpet and not considered," she said.
"Most of us have taken these children on because there was in some respects no choice. If we didn't do it, they would be costing the Government a fortune."
Mr Vogel, 74, a former electricity linesman who emailed the Herald about the issue, said he and his wife Leonie, 61, supported two grand-daughters aged 17 and 13 on their pension and unsupported child benefit. They live in a former school between Oamaru and Dunedin.
He said when they visited Work and Income NZ to find out about the extra cash they were told there was "nothing going".
Mr Benson-Pope said he recognised there was "an inherent unfairness" for grandparents under the present arrangement.
"I remain committed to extending the support provided for grandparents raising grandchildren and other carers on a pension, in particular those taking on caring due to family breakdown, to provide them with the sort of allowances provided to foster parents," he said.
"I have asked officials to provide advice on options to better align the unsupported child's benefit and foster care allowance provisions. This work is under way but is not yet complete.
"Additionally, I can confirm that grandparents who become the main carer for a child may currently be entitled to the in-work payment and the accommodation supplement under the Working for Families package," he said.

* The promise:
Grandparent-carers on superannuation would get the same payments as other foster parents - between $111 and $159 a week depending on the child's age.
* The reality:
Kin carers continue to get about $20 a week less than the foster care rates.

Becon Whakatane by Judy Turner MP


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.

Grandparents looking after P addicts' children

THURSDAY , 28 AUGUST 2003  Western Leader

A growing number of grandparents are taking custody of children whose parents are methamphetamine addicts. The scenario is widespread and bound to get worse, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust national convener Diane Vivian says.
Mrs Vivian says the problem is twofold for desperate grandparents who are worried about their own offspring as well as their grandchildren. 
"These children are traumatised," Mrs Vivian says. "One grandmother saw her two-year-old grandchild pretending to inject themself with a knitting needle. 
"It's scary, but that's the reality. They act out what they have witnessed," she says.
Mrs Vivian says children exposed to methamphetamine-related behaviour may feel abandoned by their parents and suffer psychological problems, including post traumatic stress and anxiety disorders.
She says some grandparents, now in their 80s, are seeing their teenage grandchildren turn to methamphetamine, also known as P, as well. 
Others are struggling to cope with domestic violence fuelled by the drug. 
"Some grandmothers have been beaten up by their own daughters," Mrs Vivian says.
She says many grandparents struggle to find legal fees to apply for custody to keep youngsters safe. "A lot of them had gone into retirement mode and downsized their home and all of a sudden they have three children," she says.
Mrs Vivian established the trust four years ago and there are now 34 support groups nationwide. "I think the grandparents who do this are absolutely amazing," she says. Trust committee member Dominique Young says taking responsibility for grandchildren is a big step. "If you take custody of your grandchildren you have to rearrange your whole life," the west Aucklander says.
Ms Young, who is also a member of the P Users Family and Friends support group, says grandparents are aware the bond with their own children may never be restored. "You really are forgoing your relationship with your child for the relationship with, and safety of, your grandchildren. "The children are at risk because the parent is thinking of meeting their own needs. The needs of the children are going to become exceedingly secondary," Ms Young says. "When you have someone addicted to such a highly addictive drug you are in it for the long haul," she says.  

Evening Post: 22/06/01

To Save A Child

The death of Carterton toddler Lillybing has raised questions about the role of grandparents in protecting infants from unsafe families.
Margaret Willard reports on one Maori woman's struggle to save her grandchild. Lilian remembers very clearly the Sunday afternoon last year when her daughter walked out on her baby. She'd come home from a visit to the shops in her middle-class Hutt valley neighbourhood. Her husband works as a machinery technician, and together the Maori couple has spent 20 years raising three daughters. At 42, Lilian, whom The Post has agreed not to name fully, was looking forward to a new life. She planned to study to fulfil her dream of becoming a teacher. She'd enjoyed raising her children who are, except for the baby's mother, still at secondary school. She was looking forward to becoming a grandparent. Her eldest daughter, 19 had become pregnant to her partner of several years.
In spite of Lilian's efforts to point out the drawbacks and responsibility involved, her daughter had been keen to have a baby for some time now. Lilian did her best to help the couple care for the unborn child, and her daughter gave up smoking and produced a healthy baby girl. What she found out when she walked in the door that Sunday has changed her life, and forced her to postpone her dreams. There was a note from her daughter saying she loved both her parents, but could no longer live with her partner. Lilian had been concerned the couple might move out together, because they were ill-equipped to care for the baby, but she was not prepared for this. " I'd had no idea things were so bad between them. I was bitterly disappointed, " says Lilian. She went through "all the emotions - shock, anger and sadness." The father moved out, and when the pair reconciled, they wanted the baby back and sent the police to retrieve her. Our neighbour hid the baby, and I refused to give her up, and eventually the constable left. Then we had to set up an emergency Family Court hearing. Their lawyer set an adversarial tone, which ignored the best interests of the child, and it was very stressful. "We were granted interim custody, but our daughter was crying and the father was swearing at us. It was a horrible experience - I wouldn't wish it on anyone."
The hearing was followed by seven more, every three weeks, and it was the beginning of a long estrangement between daughter and parents. Her daughter went to live with her partner and his family some distance away, and Lilian became aware of circumstances there that she was determined her granddaughter wouldn't be exposed to. "Sexual abuse was happening in the baby's presence", she says, "but to protect her I had to work so hard. I had to prove my own worth every step of the way." While the dispute continued, the baby's parents were allowed access at a relative's home. They never turned up, and after the first hearing did not appear in court. Lilian found the court hearings extremely traumatic. She was cross-examined by her daughters lawyer, and had to explain things about her daughters behaviour she wished she didn't have to speak of. She felt torn, but she knew she had to answer to protect her grandchild. Worse was to come. Lilian faced embarrassing questions about her own fitness as a parent, based on information her daughter had provided. "They labelled me as a control freak," says Lilian., "but I only wanted my granddaughter to have the best possible start in life, and I'd tried to show them how to care for their baby." In the end I decided it was best to put all my own skeletons on the line. Why should I try to hide anything?"
Lilian was granted interim custody, but that was only part of the battle - she and her husband had to work out how to make ends meet with an extra mouth to feed. After the first hearing, Lilian applied to the department of work and Income for the unsupported child allowance. "All the time our daughter was away from home and on the DPB she sent us only small amounts for the baby, if at all. She explained to DWI that she had interim custody, and three times she took the baby to appointments initiated by DWI. After a series of increasingly frustrating phone calls, Lilian was told her daughter was going to get her baby back, and a family group conference had already been held, so the unsupported child allowance would not be granted. " I couldn't believe they would turn down a five month old baby. She was entitled to enough money for her care, but was getting only a tiny morsel of it. I became really angry, and I quoted the United nations Convention on the Rights of the child at the case manager. Her daughters relationship then ended after she was assaulted by her partner. " The assault was a turning point in the case," says Lilian. "But I had to give the information to the court, and I hated doing it. It's such a relief things have come to a conclusion".
The custody arrangements can be challenged again, but Lilian's daughter has assured her she won't try for custody again. She is now contributing substantially to the baby's care. "A lot of trust has been shattered," say's Lilian, "and I want us to rebuild it. She's involved with caring for her daughter, but still not ready for the full responsibility". Lilian says they'll keep the baby until she is independant. "She is our little girl now - you can't put a judical judgement on bonding. She is our taonga" Parenting is a lot different second time around, she's found. "I feel I have been given a second chance, and I can do extra that I couldn't do the first time. And having been through it before, you know what to expect." But it's still not easy. "I'm sad that the baby isn't with both her real mother and father" she says. "She's become attached to her koro (grandfather), but it should be her father she takes to". Her older daughters have also taken on extra responsibility, and sometimes are resentful their sister "made the baby" they sometimes care for. "But they've learned what it means to bring a baby into the world, " says Lilian. It's been a hard learning experience, both for her and her daughters. "In our (Maori) culture, it's natural for grandparents and other relatives to look after children when necessary, but in this society grandparents have no rights at all. Once I had speaking rights in court, I was treated fairly, but the system doesn't work in the best interests of the child."
Lilian also found solace in the Grandparents raising grandchildren support group. "I realised I wasn't the only one in this situation, and that a lot of people have much worse cases than mine" she says. "It was good to be able to go along there and talk." Other members of the group say she has been very fortunate to incur legal costs of less than $2000. Lilian's lawyer, Fiona Morris, has several grandparents seeking custody of their grandchildren amongst her clients, and says most are surprised to find others in the same position. "They're so isolated". Morris says. "It's an amazingly selfless thing to do, to go through this process as well as putting their lives on hold to care for the children. Usually in the end everything works out really well for the grandparents". Lilian, meanwhile is thankful to be able to get on with looking after her granddaughter. "I'm proud to belong to my iwi, my hapu, and my whanau, and to be doing a jolly good job with my own family". 

Evening Post: 03/05/01

"Grandparents are ready to march through the streets if the Government continues to ignore their concerns, says the national co-ordinator of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, Diane Vivian. She says if Government continues to ignore grandparents plight after a series of planned events, there will be nationwide street marches. "We've broken the cycle of abuse", she says, "but we're being penalised for it and the children in our care are being discriminated against".
Support groups are mushrooming as grandparents emerge from the isolation they've experienced. There are now 26 groups around the country. It's unknown how many people are in this situation and the group wants a register established. Vivian has surveyed legal firms and found everyone of them to have clients in this position. Grandparents feel let down by CYFS and the Department of Work and Income. (DWI). DWI staff seem to lack the understanding and training to deal appropriately with families and children, she says. The group has made comparisons between grandparents' financial position and that of foster parents. In addition to community funding for child support, foster families are entitled to birthday and Christmas money, school fee's and a clothing allowance. Even in the 50 percent of cases where placement of children with grandparents has been through CYFS, there has been no information about the entitlements. In many cases grandparents find out about the unsupported child allowance only through sheer persistence. It ranges from $71.60 to $102.30 depending on the age of the child. Community funding for the foster parents is between $86.09 to $129.42 a child. "Grandchildren may not be able to go on that all important school trip, pay school fee's or have a school unifrom. Some grandparents are going without food to ensure their growing grandchildren eat properly.
Why are we being penalised for wanting the best for our grandchildren," says Vivian. One of the demands is for a limit to the number of allowable number of court hearings. At present grandparents and children face the disruption and expense of custody hearing up to six times a year. A ministry of Social Policy spokesman, replying on behalf of CYFS and DWI, says the Government is aware of the situations that arise when children are cared for by other family members and is working on formulating solutions.
Ministry officials recently met with Vivian to give advise on what further non-financial support is available for the affected grandchildren. Until a long term solution is found, specific contacts have been made available at DWI to ensure people had access to information about entitlements. He says the Government is considering how to involve people who have had a signigant relationship to the child, for example grandparents, in the process of resolving guardianship, custody and access disputes and law changes are possible. On the legal aid, the ministry of justice is aware of the problems being experienced by grandparents and is conducting a review of eligibility for legal aid. Where children are in CYFS care, they generally have all their costs met by the state. For those not in CYFs care, the State has no legal responsibility once care and protection issues are resolved. "However despite this, it is realised that the parents can no longer care for the children and in that situation some assistance is provided for their support, as happens for the general population."





The Gisborne Herald - By Lisa Mills


Gisbourne GreyPower Members are calling on the Government to offer more financial support to grandparents looking after grandchildren.

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."

Lisa Mills
The Gisborne Herald


About us 

Grandparents Raising GrandchildrenTM Trust NZ (GRG) is a registered Charitable Trust operating throughout New Zealand providing support services to grandparents who are raising their grandchildren on a full-time basis. Our vision is for a community where grandparents raising grandchildren are empowered to provide a safe, secure and nurturing home for their grandchildren.

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Te tautoko i nga tupuna, mokopuna me te whanau.
Te awhina ia ratou ki te whakatutuki i nga putanga
pai i roto i to raatau oranga.
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to achieve positive outcomes in their lives.  



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