GRANDPARENTS who take primary responsibility for raising their grandkids have had a significant win, with a parliamentary committee recommending extending financial assistance so they don’t fall below the poverty line while caring for young family members.
Better counselling services, access to parenting classes, and vouchers for computer courses are among the raft of measures a Senate committee has proposed providing to grandparents who assume the role of full-time carers, often because their children are battling substance abuse and mental health problems.
The committee, which reported to parliament on Wednesday night, declared it unfair to allow grandparents to “bear the full financial costs of raising their grandchildren, particularly when governments would otherwise most likely have to provide for the children through the foster care system”.
Although Federal Government payments like Family Tax benefits and carers allowances are available to grandparents in some circumstances, the report revealed grandparents are often confused about what they are entitled to, find interacting with Centrelink difficult, and struggle with paperwork and supporting documentation.
Coalition Senator Dean Smith, who initiated the Senate probe, said the report was the first step in a “much needed conversation about the unrecognised role played by grandparents rearing their grandchildren.”
“I am especially pleased by those recommendations that focus on the disparity between foster care payment arrangements in different states,” Senator Smith said.
Among the 18 recommendations is a call for state and territory governments to consider extending foster care allowances to grandparents who are raising their grandchildren in informal circumstances, without court orders.
It calls on the states to address the disparity that exists between the assistance received by foster carers and that provided to grandparents.
The committee also calls for the federal Department of Human Services to better identify grandparent-headed families applying for Commonwealth benefits.
A trial program that provides grandparents with vouchers to undertake IT training so they can understand the technology accessed by teenage grandchildren has also been proposed, along with better access to parenting support services and training.
Inquiry chair Rachel Siewart said many grandparents looking after their grandkids were doing it tough and needed more support.
“The recommendations go to critical areas, including the financial support, legal and relationship supports, health, mental health and counselling services that are needed by grandparent raising grandchildren to support themselves and the children in their care,” Senator Siewart said.
Grandparent carers sharing the load
Mary Dippelsmann, 70, along with husband Trevor, 69, who live at Stockland Fig Tree Retirement Village, care for their second-youngest grandchild Eliza, 7, for three hours, three days a week.
While not a full-time carer herself, Mrs Dippelsmann agreed grandparents seem to be taking on more of the load than 15 years ago.
“Definitely. I picked (Eliza’s) siblings up from kindy and school but we never did that with the (older) grandchildren. Their mums worked in school hours or were at home,” she said.
Mrs Dippelsmann said she loved the time she spent with her grandchild, but admitted it was “full-on”.
“We do homework and play and she swims in the pool when it’s warm enough, and she practices the piano occasionally,” she said.
“(Her parents would) rather have us looking after her than somebody else.”
The Murrumba Downs grandmother said, while they were not seeking to be paid to care for Eliza, she could understand other family’s situations where the children were looked after full-time and could be a “burden on the budget”.
This article first appeared on ‘news.com.au’ on 30 October 2014.