A call to better support grandparents and kinship carers.

Grandparents and kin who raise grandchildren.


Imagine that you are about to commence your long-awaited and well-earned retirement. Maybe you have plans to take that extended road trip around Australia. Or catch up on all those books you have been waiting to find the time to read. Or planning so many other dreams to pursue, now you have the time.

Then that phone call occurs when it all changes. Your grandchildren need you to care for them. Not just for a week or two. Maybe for years. Maybe until they have grown up. Your retirement plans, your finances, your plans to do all those things you could only dream of when you were working full time – have all suddenly and significantly changed.

A significant number of children and young people throughout Tasmania are being raised by a family member other than their parents and findings show the responsibility most often falls particularly on grandparents.

International and national surveys suggest the most common reason children are in kinship care is due to parental drug or alcohol abuse (55%).

Survey suggest that approximately 45% of kinship carers have to quit work to care for these children, 43% say they do not have enough income for their grandchildren’s needs and many carers rely on their pension as their main source of income. Many are living in poverty.

Recently I spoke to a grandmother who has been a full-time carer for two of her grandchildren for over ten years because of their parent’s drug problems. Whilst thegrandmother’s achievements in raising these beautiful children are inspirational, she has struggled financially, emotionally and physically. She continues to live close to the poverty line. This has also a direct effect on her grandchildren.

Many grandparents are spending their retirement savings and many others are going into debt to care these children. Not only does this impact on grandparents directly but it also can affect long term outcomes for the child, if they are unable to afford the range of necessary support which is only available to children who are in formal foster care arrangements.

Raising children can be hard work especially for those who are ageing. It’s a toughjob the first time around when we are young, fit and healthy. Imagine taking on the parenting of two of three young children in your sixties or older.

While it’s not a new trend, the reasons for and experience of raising grandchildren have changed over recent decades.

Addiction and incarceration, child abuse and neglect, mental health issues, unexpected death and economic factors all have contributed to a rise in the number of grandparents and kin caring for kids.

Compared with non-caregiving peers, grandparents who are raising their grandchildren also often have more extensive health problems.

What we do know is that children in the care of their grandparents and kin often have far better outcomes than many children in the care of the state.

There are very few financial entitlements available for informal kinship carers to cover the costs of raising a child. This needs to change. As a society we need to better support these unsung heroes.

Frank Tyers, the secretary of Kin Raising Kids, Tasmania stated:

“There’s a long-standing issue with support for grandparent carers – they’re not recognised financially, as someone with special guardianship is. Grandparents want children to have a stable, happy childhood and to have the opportunities and things other children have.”

As one grandparent recently said to me “Even if you have some savings when gointo it, it’s still hard to manage raising a child at my age. We need more help andassistance. Few things are more important than our children’s future”

In Tasmania, registered foster carers are entitled to financial support, but informal kinship carers have no equivalent entitlements. Help is difficult to access if the carer is looking after the child as a private arrangement with no legal order.

Bringing up children is expensive for those of us who are younger and in full time work. But for many of these grandparents and kin who are retired and are either living on the pension or are self-funded retirees, this is a very challenging financially.

Grandparents and kin who raise children are to be applauded. They often provide these children with a start to adult life that would never have been possible if they had not taken them into their homes and lives.

Let’s positively encourage our community leaders and decision makers to come together in a bipartisan way, to consider how we can better support these grandparents and kin carers.

In Tasmania much has already been achieved to improve outcomes for children and young people needing extra support. We have an opportunity to build on these achievements by considering how we are able to best support the grandparents and kin who care for this important group of children.

As a community let’s give some serious consideration how we can better support these grandparents and family members who open their homes and hearts to children in times of great need.

Mark Morrissey
Consultant – health and wellbeing of children and young people.