The invisible carer – A Grandparent’s story

My dad has a Countdown app on his phone.
He knows that there are 2 years 9 months 3 weeks 4 hours 23 minutes and 15, 14, 13….seconds until his retirement (or there about’s!). He also knows that when he retires he has spent the last 40 years building into his superannuation and that his hard earned cash can be spent on cruises, being a grey nomad in his caravan or whatever else he wants to use it for.

But imagine if circumstances were different and suddenly 10 years ago he found himself single and raising a grandson.

Those extra contributions to his super would have stopped as he took the role of dad again. The money he was earning would be spent on daycare, school books and sports activities. Relaxing on the weekend would be replaced with organising visits with family. Supervising your own child spending time with their child. Emotionally torn between caring for the two. Dealing with the fall out on the return home. Suddenly those golden years are full of health battles brought on by stress and mounting bills. Working is hard but there isn’t an option of the same Centrelink benefits or carer subsidies and certainly no training on how to deal with trauma behaviours in a 5 year old. The caravan is sold to make room for a basketball ring on the driveway. That countdown app is deleted because now you need to work for years to come.

This is the reality for over 2000 Grandparents in Western Australia. I know a handful of these grandparents who are parenting again. Some have had a choice, others have suddenly become a part of a legal process that they don’t understand, broken hearted for their broken child and feeling obliged to care for their family. I don’t make light of that obligation – the difficulty faced and unknowns. Those who open their homes have my unending gratefulness. Those who have had to put boundaries in place have my understanding and love.

Today I have the honour of sharing a little of one of my grandcarer friends stories.

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Can you tell us a little, whatever you are comfortable with, about what led your grandchildren to coming into your care full time?

Our grandchildren were taken into care after a few years of the department being involved with the family. The reason was mainly drugs, domestic violence on both sides being abuse of shouting at each other in front of children, neglect of children.

Have you been well supported by the department? Have they explained what is happening, what will happen and how you can find support?

I felt the department didn’t really explain everything but felt they needed the kids to be placed into care ASAP and they were stuck with not so many carers so we were the only option. At first the department helped with a few things like setting up the payment we would receive for having them but I felt isolated being first time carers and didn’t know what we would need to expect.

What impact has becoming parents of primary schoolers had on your social life and health? Have you been able to maintain or regain a relationship with your child, the parent of your grandchildren?

It was hard with dome things the emotional side seeing how distressed our grandchildren were being torn not only from mum and dad but from their brother and sister, not knowing where the little ones were or how they were going was extremely difficult for all of us. Adjusting to having school children wasn’t too bad as we were used to having our grandchildren at least 1 time a week but like I said seeing their emotions was very hard and no one to talk to about how we could help in the beginning.

Our social life and family life changed considerably. First we had to adjust to meeting people with same age group of kids as we are older than most carers and then the difficult situation we were put in with our son not being able to see his children without permission etc, it was a hard road being torn between both kids and parents but always our first priority was to our grandchildren as they needed us to be strong for them they needed all the love comfort protection and for them to feel safe with us so that was easy but hard to see our son struggle with his demons and try to be there for him as well.

What changes would you like to see in the Child Protection system and government policies to make caring for your grandchildren easier. Where you can go from surviving to seeing them thrive?

What would I wanted to change is the department to make sure carers have contact with other carers. For the department to listen to us if kids feel they don’t want to visit their parents they don’t have to. The carers are with the children, so they really know how the kids are feeling and then we carers don’t feel like we have let them down. I would like the department to put our grandchildren first at all times instead of parents not letting them being disappointed going for visits waiting for no show. I feel 3 strikes and the parent should be told next month when we see you, you aren’t going to let them down then we will recommence with visits.

I would like to see more help helping us get all 4 children together and if any child needs medical conditions sorted it will be done with urgency. These children most of them have many issues and need sorted so they don’t fall behind especially school and help with social activities etc. I would like to see more carers get togethers and notification on regular basis.

In saying all of this I would recommend people to be carers as it is very rewarding seeing these beautiful grandchildren blossom and grow into beautiful people with confidence. It’s hard seeing so many troubled children who deserve to be happy and feel safe part of a family and pray one day they too can be reunited with their parents or at least always know where they came from and they were always loved but sometimes parents just don’t know how to be parents. We don’t need to fight the department as well as their natural parents, let’s put our little children first at all times. Being a grandparent as well as a carer is hard as I feel sometimes people judge me but I wouldn’t change it and it doesn’t make it any easier having blood bond than if we didn’t know them as I tell people our grandchildren have suffered just like other children in care the only difference is they know us but they still 

 

hurt, pine for their parents and have other trauma behaviours.

The hopes for the future is that all 4 of my friend’s Grandchildren can return to living together full time. As it turns out, we helped care for the 2 younger children when they first came into care, not knowing this family at all and only putting the pieces together around a campfire while we roasted marshmallows last year.

Wanslea Family Services are running a campaign to create a Fairer Future for Grandchildren.  They are urging you to look into this issue before this weekend’s Federal election.

My hats go off to those of you who are Grandcarers or Kin carers.
If you would like a community to belong to, please contact me about Ark Australia.

 

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