Growing up back in the 1960s and 70s, most of my friends lived in stable homes with two married parents and siblings, as did I. We were very lucky but probably took that arrangement for granted and considered it normal.
Today, life for many children is very different. Large numbers are still raised in “the traditional family unit”, but many others are raised in sole-parent families, blended families and, in some cases, state care.
All parents who love and care for their children deserve our thanks and support regardless of their circumstances. Sadly, however, increasing numbers of children do not know one of their parents, while many are not wanted by their biological parents, or are subjected to abuse or neglect while living in dangerous environments surrounded by violence or addiction.
As a consequence, many grandparents are now having to return to full-time parenting when parents are unable or unwilling to raise their children, and some turn to the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust New Zealand (GRG) for help.
GRG is a registered not-for-profit organisation providing nationwide support services to approximately 7,500 full time grandparent and whanau carers in New Zealand.
GRG was established in 1999 by Diane Vivian, QSO, who was raising her fostered daughter’s children and wondered if there were any other grandparents in the same situation. She posted a small advertisement in her local newspaper and over 100 grandparents turned up to a small hall on the North Shore for the first meeting.
From there, networking and word of mouth began and, with some help and direction, areas throughout New Zealand were identified and filled with local support coordinators. Today, there are 38 areas covered from Kaitaia to Bluff with over 7,500 grandparents or kin carers involved in raising their grandchildren. GRG currently has 4,700 members supporting an estimated 13,500 grandchildren.
Local meetings are held monthly, and there are coffee groups, telephone support and monthly newsletters are distributed.
GRG’s Hamilton and Huntly area Support Group Coordinator is Patrick Davis. He notes that for more than 95% of the families they work with, the grandparents have become full-time caregivers as a result of a traumatic event or family breakdown involving serious issues with the parents.
“Often it is due to drugs and/or alcohol abuse, violence, neglect, mental illness, imprisonment, or death of one or both parents,” explains Patrick. “If it weren't for the grandparents taking on the responsibility for the care of the grandchildren the children would be faced with state care.
“The fallout for both the grandchildren and grandparents is life changing and requires a deep understanding of their needs as they work to reform their family and rebuild the lives of the children.”
GRG Trust NZ is a unique organisation that has a deep understanding of both the benefits and challenges that grandchildren being raised by their grandparents or whanau can present. In circumstances where children cannot be raised by their parents, international research shows that children raised by whanau have better long-term outcomes than children raised by non-family.
“We want to facilitate change in the legal and regulatory environment to ensure that these unique caregivers receive appropriate support and are enabled to act in the best interests of the children,” says Patrick.
“GRG aims to achieve better lifelong outcomes for our children. Providing support for full-time grandparents in their efforts to protect, care and provide for their grandchildren is, for the most part, the reason for our existence.”
Specifically, GRG supports grandparents or family closely related to the children in need. These may be great uncles or great aunts of the children in need. The incidence of siblings coming to the aid of their nephews or nieces is increasing and they are offered the same level of support.
Unlike foster carers, grandparents do not qualify for paid respite care, so the elder family member usually seeks support from other family members to assist with raising their grandchildren.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the children being raised by GRG members are receiving essential love, care and nurturing. It is immensely demanding and a commitment most of us feel is behind us once our own children have grown up. I salute all those who are filling this vital role in their extended families and acknowledge that our society as a whole is much healthier and stronger for their wonderful commitment.