Grandparent carers on Struggle Street 27



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Jean (not her real name) is 80 years of age. She has been looking after her grandson Simon, (not his real name) who is now approaching 14 years of age, from a very early age. Simon has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD and takes medication to control his behaviour. Mainly due to the loving care of his sole grandparent and the intervention of professionals, a mentoring program and grandparent carers support group, Simon’s behaviour has improved. He is progressing at school and there is cautious optimism that he is now in a low risk category of vulnerability and his future is looking bright.

Simon came to notice because of his violent behaviour after being expelled from pre-schools and kindergartens because of his violent attacks on other children. Despite this, it was obvious even at four years of age that he had above average language skills and was highly intelligent. Unfortunately, his early years were subjected to witnessing violence and drug taking in his mother’s home, violence towards him personally, neglect, and in later years subjected to mistreatment by one of the mother’s boyfriends.

Research now tells us of the effect of the stress hormone cortisol on the brain development of young children. Children who are abused or witness abuse or in extreme neglect will suffer from a form of post- traumatic stress disorder. They will exhibit behavioural difficulties which may result in a melt -down or aggression and may also have learning difficulties and an inability to concentrate.

A few years ago Jean sought to have full custody of Simon awarded in the Family Law Court. Jean was initially refused legal aid and legal aid representation because Legal Aid were representing Simon’s mother. It was only at the last minute and in desperation, on the steps of the Family Law Court was a solicitor found who responded to the desperate situation and went into court with Jean. After many hearings, Jean reluctantly agreed to joint custody with Simon’s mother. The system had worn Jean down.

Jean has been the main carer and support for Simon. She receives very little support from Simon’s mother. From her single pension and shared Family tax benefit, she feeds, clothes and schools Simon. His mother who has employment was giving Jean $20 per week which has now been reduced to $10. Jean has also to pay rent, electricity etc. and try to maintain a vehicle to transport Simon. She does not receive any payments from the State Government. Struggle Street is where Jean resides permanently.

Jean’s devotion to her grandchild is typical of grandparent carers. There are growing number of grandparents who suddenly find themselves at a time when they should be appreciating their retirement, suddenly caring for their grandchildren. In recent times the ‘ice’ epidemic is further contributing to the number of children in grandparent’s care.

Grandparent carers have to contend not only with the behavioural and learning problems of their grandchildren, there is a whole raft of other matters they have to deal with depending on the age or ages of the children they suddenly have responsibility for. The education system, the legal system, respite for themselves, the generation gap, the bureaucratic system which may or may not give them financial and other assistance and where to find a support group. Often not considered is that the grandparents are also dealing with the situation of their offspring who caused them to have the care of the grandchild or grandchildren in the first place. It is a double whammy so to speak.

I recently had lunch with a group of grandparent carers and Jean who were members of a support group which has been closed. Showing their resilience they are now making their own arrangements to meet and support each other. There are support groups for grandparent carers and I know the Council of the Ageing website is one place to go to locate a group.

I suspect that many in our society do not appreciate the difficulties our grandparent carers face on a day to day basis. They deserve all the support they can get for the love and devotion and care they give to their grandchildren.

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Michael Whitehead

Michael Whitehead attended uni as a mature age student in his 50s, completing multiple postgraduate degrees in health science and psychology. He has a canoe, a pushbike, a bodyboard, a tennis racquet and a fishing rod. He uses them all. Michael is now enjoying retirement after a wide range of careers, most recently as Manager of a Family Support Service.

  1. I have the greatest respect and admiration for you Jean. It’s disgusting how dismissive the government were toward you and the plight of your very vulnerable grandson. He is very lucky to have you and your wisdom and compassion. May you be given strength to carry on your good work,and continue to fight for decent monetary support.

    1 REPLY
  2. Jean and the many other grandparents out there, who are taking responsibility for their grandchildren deserve full support from the Government. Children are not only expensive to raise, especially when they are in their teens, they are time consuming, something that an 80 year old is running out of. Even the fittest of us tires more quickly as we age, that combined with money stress, is not helping Jean. We need more people with big hearts and plenty of love and caring to give like Jean in this selfish society that we have become

  3. Trying to get professional help for my grandchildren is a daily frustration. I want them to be successful adults but can’t do it all myself. I have two full-time and three part time on my own.

  4. h Have 2 daughters raising their grand children. There is just not nearly enough support for them . They are doing the job that the government would have to do other wise. And deserve recognition and some financial assistance. I and my 2 younger siblings were raised by our grandparents. Its now at the age of 70 myself i look back and realize what a huge load it was for them to take on . When they should have been able to relax and pursue the interests of their age group etc. Could never thank them enough. the other side of the family wanted us put in an orphanage !!. Loving memories always. And ….THANK YOU… our Nan and Pop for keeping us together and raising us up !!.

  5. Michael Whitehead this is great thought provoking writing. I also know of a similar carer who risks her own health to care for her grand daughter with very little help. Grandparents should get some child support from their children and the government should assist the grandparent with respite and payment. This is a caring job where you don’t ever get a day off. Thank you to the JEANS out there

  6. Yes, I have met quite a few Grandparents who are in this situation. Their lives are very hard. They don’t get any breaks. They deserve all the support they can get.

  7. It is over 12 years that I have been raising this grand daughter who has been in my care since she was four and a half and she turned 17 on friday and I couldn’t ask for a better grand daughter as she has always been happy and caring and I am very proud of her and I wish some people would leave me alone and stop trying to change things to suit them as my grand daughter is happy with her school and the future which is ahead for her. She has recently started a traineeship in food processing one day a week which is through her school.

  8. Grandparents who care for their grandchildren deserve all the help they can get from government agencies and society in general. I am very glad that my precious grandchildren have the best parents they could wish for.

  9. I looked after my daughter’s two children (3 and 18 months) for six months full time; also did after care for a friend’s 3 boys. It was hard work but at least I was helping them all to get back on their feet.
    Grandparents do a wonderful job.

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