The Aussie grandparents reliving parenthood as kinship carers

Many grandparents become kinship carers.

For grandparents around the globe, having a visit from the grandkids is always a pleasure – but for some, those visits have become more permanent.

Instead of offering the odd school run and after-school dinner, or even a full weekend of babysitting while the parents have a mini-break, many grandparents are becoming full-time, primary carers for their grandkids, in place of the child or children’s parents. It can happen for any number of reasons, but they’re effectively re-living parenthood all over again in their 60s, 70s and sometimes even later.

Becoming a grandparent carer isn’t easy, and often it isn’t even a choice,” Aussie parenting website Raising Children explains. “Many grandparents don’t expect a family crisis that leaves them to raise their grandchild. Although it might feel like it, you’re not alone – it happens to thousands of Australian families.”

Such grandparents are doing a huge service in offering a safe, loving home for their grandchildren, but it can also prove to be a burden. And while the government offers financial and emotional support for grandparents who are primary carers, the level of support can depend on a number of factors.

Read more: Being a grandparent child-carer means big emotional, financial demands

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However, that’s not the only place full-time grandparent carers can turn to. A group set up in New South Wales’ Wagga Wagga, called Grandparents Doing it Tough, wants more rights and support from the government. They claim there are now more grandparents formally caring for their grandchildren in NSW than there are foster carers, but they feel like they’re getting less support than those carers simply because they’re family.

“As a group we have had to become quite politically proactive in order to raise awareness of the needs of grandparents, in particular financial support, and the importance for recognition and respect for the role they take,” group member Lyn Reilly told Starts at 60. “We are also trying to change the language used from ‘kinship carers’ to ‘grandparents’. Grandparents are parenting a second generation.”

Reilly explained that if grandkids are placed with grandparents through the Department of Family Services (FaCS), and they’re involved in the court proceedings, then the grandparents are classed as formal carers, which mean they receive an allowance from the government. 

“[But] if grandparents are informal carers then they don’t receive any additional financial support, and many of our grandparents are raising grandchildren on single Aged Pensions or other government pensions.”

More groups like this are being set up right across the country. Freda shared her own experiences with the Raising Children website, revealing she had taken on her granddaughter 13 years ago due to “circumstances with her daughter”.

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She told the site that she had assured her daughter that she’d look after the child for a few years. “It turns out I’ve had her a little bit longer than we thought,” she said, in understatement.

There are ups and downs to taking on the responsibility of caring full-time for grandchildren. It offers grandparents the chance to re-live their favourite parts of parenthood all over again, while playing a very meaningful role in their grandchildren’s lives.

It also gives them a full-time job, which is a boon for those who have struggled with adjusting to retirement. Finally, of course, it’s reassuring knowing their grandchildren are safe and loved.

However, the challenges are still there to face.

Many grandparents take on the job due to different reasons, and if it’s following the death of an adult child, it can be a huge responsibility on top of untold grief. Some have given up work and want to finally relax, but instead find themselves still doing loads of washing and cooking family meals. Finally, it can be a struggle financiallywith, in may cases, less support than you’d have as a working parent.

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UnitingCare Queensland offers a Time for Grandparents (TFG) program, supporting more than 1,000 grandparents by providing them with information and respite when they’re caring for children. From therapeutic family weekends away to activities for grandchildren and information sessions for grandparents, the program encourages new friendships, and offers support when carers are struggling emotionally or financially.

Grandparents who are raising grandchildren can contact TFG directly at 1300 135 500 to have a confidential conversation to discuss their support options.

There are also government-funded support groups available, as well as professional advisors and counsellors on hand to help guide you through the complex process. For more information on the support available to you, visit the Department of Human Services website here.

Do you think full-time kinship carers should get more support? Have you taken on all or much of the care of your grandchildren? What’s your experience been like?

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