In Australia between 2009 and 2010, there were 16 000 grandparent families, an increase of 2000 since 2007. It’s a situation fraught with legal and financial difficulties, and many grandparents are thrust into the role without a lot of consultation. Read about the experience of one grandparent, and the challenges facing grandparents raising grandchildren around the country.
Carol and Glenn live in Perth, Western Australia, and have been looking after their grandchildren – Mia, aged six years, and Luke, three years – since the children were removed from their parents by welfare agencies. Carol is 54 and Glenn is 56.
‘We’re from England originally, but we’ve been here for 19 years and had seven children of our own. We’ve had our grandchildren for two years. They’re my son’s children. At first we only thought it would be for a while – we were given custody after they were removed from their parents by children’s services because they were being neglected and nobody else could take them. Our son still lives in WA and he’s still with the children’s mother. They’ve got another child on the way. They want custody, but they both have substance abuse problems.
‘The children’s mother is Aboriginal, and I’m keen for them to maintain links to their original culture. They’d been staying with an auntie on the mother’s side, but she couldn’t manage them. Because they have such a large extended family on that side, I felt it was probably wrong that children’s services asked me to have them, and for a while I was worried the family might come and try to take them back. But nobody’s ever been near me, so I feel quite safe with them now.
‘We still have two teenage children at home, so we’re used to having children around. But for the first time in our lives we were beginning to plan, maybe move into a smaller house somewhere else and take some holidays. Before we had the grandchildren, we were able to pop over and see our daughter in Melbourne once or twice a year. I was working full-time and we could afford it. But it’s all gone backwards now we’re parents again.
‘I had to pack up my job even though I didn’t want to. I really loved my job. But I couldn’t manage working and caring for the children. It was putting a strain on my husband as well, as he had to care for them at night. We were both getting very tired.
‘Although I’m enjoying them now because they are still little, I’m not looking forward to when they’re teenagers and start rebelling. But it might be different with them. I think I’m more patient now than when I was younger.
‘I do feel as though they are missing out on us being their grandparents. Because they’re living with us and we’re their primary carers, I don’t feel as though we’re their grandparents anymore.’
Video Grandparent carers: looking after yourself
In this short video, grandparent carers talk about the importance of looking after themselves physically and mentally. They talk about how they make time to exercise, socialise and keep active. They also discuss respite care and having support from other family members. A family support worker talks about caring for grandchildren when you’re older.
Grandparent raising grandchildren at a glance
- The number of grandparent families rose from 14 000 in 2007 to 16 000 in 2010.
- In 61% of these families, the grandparents were over 55.
- Many grandparent families rely on a government pension for income – 62%, in fact.
- In 2005, 47% of grandparent families were also sole-grandparent families.
- Around 75% of children who have parents but who live with their grandparents visit their parents at least once a year.
Find more information for and about grandparents raising grandchildren in our Grandparents