When a child comes into your care
Becoming a new grandparent or kinship carer is a big change, especially if it’s been a while since you raised a child or you’ve never cared for a child before. It might feel like there’s a lot to organise all at once, but there are organisations and people who can help you get started.
All grandparent or kinship carers can get some help with legal and money matters. You might get more formal help if the child has been placed with you by your state or territory child protection authority. For example, in this situation you’ll have a case worker assigned to you. The case worker will let you know about the decisions you can make about the child and the decisions that need the authority’s agreement.
And our practical tips below can help you get started, no matter what your care situation is.
When you’re getting started, it’s good to reach out to people who’ve helped you through changes or challenges in the past. They might be able to help you adjust to your new circumstances with practical or emotional support. And if you need to talk about your situation, parenting and general hotlines can really help. They can also give you information about services and support in your area.
National, state and local services for carers can give you advice and information on the support they offer. These services might offer various types of support, so it’s good to contact all the services to find out how they can help you.
Arrange medical check-ups
When a child comes to live with you, it’s a good idea to make an appointment for a general check-up for the child with your GP, plus dental and eye checks. These check-ups are a chance to spot any health issues that you might need to take care of.
Also, an early check-up can give the GP and other health professionals a chance to get to know the child. This can make it easier for you to talk with them later on if you’re concerned or just want reassurance that the child is going well.
If the child you’re caring for is enrolled in Medicare, you can still claim for the child’s medical treatment, even if you don’t have their Medicare card. Ask your GP to phone Medicare on 1300 660 035 to find out the child’s Medicare number. You can also ask Medicare about having the child put on your Medicare card.
Organise clothing and other equipment
You might need to get clothes, school uniforms, car seats or prams for younger children, furniture like a bed and desk, and so on. You can ask your local council or local support agencies like Vinnies or the Salvos to help you with new or used clothing, furniture and payments for families in need. If you have a case worker, you could also ask them to help you get what you need for the child.
Think about child care, preschool and school
Child care might be important for you if you’re still working or if you want to take a break each week. Depending on how old the child is, you might need to think about enrolling the child in preschool or enrolling the child at school and outside school hours care.
You might be able to get government help with the costs of child care and outside school hours care.
Tell people what you need
Case workers, courts, schools, GPs and other services are there to help you. It’s important to be clear with them about your needs and the needs of the child in your care. Also ask for their advice on getting the best support for yourself and the child. It might help to make a list of what you and the child need before speaking with each person, then check off items as you get them.
Talking to other people in a similar situation can help you work out what you need. If you don’t know any other grandparent or kinship carers, you could join a grandparent or kinship carer support group. Grandparent, Foster and Kinship Carer Advisers can help you find out about support groups in your area. You can call them on 1800 245 965.
Look into support for the child
Organisations like the Create Foundation, the Mirabel Foundation and the Pyjama Foundation support children who can’t live with their parents. They hold events where children can meet others who are in the same situation.
Make sure the child can talk to someone they trust about how they’re feeling. If they’ve experienced trauma or a traumatic event, you might want to think about seeking professional support.
The child might be able to get Medicare rebates for up to 20 mental health service sessions from psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists each calendar year. They’ll need a mental health care plan from a GP or a referral from a psychiatrist or paediatrician.
If the child in your care is aged 5 years or older, they can talk with a Kids Helpline counsellor by calling 1800 551 800, or using the Kids Helpline email counselling service or the Kids Helpline web counselling service.
Looking after yourself as a grandparent or kinship carer and being kind to yourself will help you feel better able to navigate your new situation. If you need professional support for your own mental health, your GP will be able to help you get a mental health care plan.
Getting your paperwork organised can help you keep track of things. You might like to keep a folder, diary or computer file or spreadsheet. You can use it to write down:
- who you’ve talked to
- when you talked to them
- what you talked about.
Also keep copies of any documents or letters. It’s OK to ask a friend or family member to help with this.
It’s up to you to decide whether taking full-time care of a child will be right for you and the child. If you need help deciding or talking with your family about the care of a child, you could talk to a local family counsellor. Relationships Australia also provides counselling, family mediation and support services that can help. Talking to other grandparent or kinship carers can also help you understand what the change might mean for you.