WA study reveals challenges facing grandparents raising grandchildren

WA study reveals challenges facing grandparents raising grandchildren

JAN Standen thought her retirement would be filled with holidays and leisure time but instead she has been raising her three grandchildren.

The 70-year-old Heathridge resident is like many other ‘hidden’ West Australians who care for their grandchildren fulltime, often known as grandcarers.

“You could say we are the forgotten people,” she said.

“Not a lot of us would have thought we’d be in this position.

“But we wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Ms Standen was one of 295 grandcarers who participated in a study run by Scarborough-based family services provider Wanslea with Curtin University and Edith Cowan University (ECU) researchers.

The Lotterywest-funded study aims to identify the needs of grandcarers, and gaps in social policy and service provision, providing a basis on which to lobby State and Federal governments to effect changes.

The two university research teams presented their preliminary findings this week, which Wanslea research manager Katrina Stratton said identified a “complex web of issues” facing grandcarers including emotional, financial, social and family.

“Grandparents caring for their grandchildren is the fastest-growing type of care in Australia,” she said.

“We are really committed to making sure this isn’t just a report that gathers dust somewhere.”

About one-third of survey participants were living in rental accommodation, 62 per cent were living on $50,000 or less per year and half could not pay their bills on time.

It also found they cared for an average of three children and while the majority were satisfied with their role, 26 per cent found satisfaction was irrelevant because they felt they did not have a choice.

The results are unsurprising for Ms Standen, who began caring for her then 16-year-old grandson in 2010 and his two younger siblings in 2013, when their parents could not because of drug and mental health issues.

“It’s been a very hard slog,” she said.

“Everyone’s story is different but everyone’s story is traumatic.”

She said the inequality, as they did not receive the same benefits as carers arranged by the Department of Child Protection, was a major concern for the 90 per cent who were ‘informal’/kinship carers.

Ms Standen said most carers were on an aged care pension and those who tried to return to work struggled to find employment.

“We don’t do it for the money, we do it to give our kids a better life,” she said.

“But grandcarers face dreadful financial stress.”

She is among the growing but silent number of grandparents raising their grandchildren and having to reassess their life plans, without the support they need.

The study requires an additional 205 grandparents to complete the survey and Ms Standen urged others to make the time.

“It’s vital that they do it,” she said.

“We need to make some changes.

“I just pray someone will listen.”

Survey preliminary findings:

The majority of survey participants were female and ranged in age from 50 to 69, with 57 per cent married or had a partner and 40 per cent retired.

About one-third were living in rental accommodation, 62 per cent were living on $50,000 or less per year and half could not pay their bills on time.

ECU researcher David Coall was surprised by some of the findings, including that participants cared for an average of three children, satisfaction with their role was irrelevant and social media did not much increase the mother or father’s contact with their children or the grandparents.

He was also concerned by the lower levels of self-reported health and wellbeing compared to the national average for their age group and that most did not find their social network nor agencies helpful.

“Grandparents are getting as much help from their social network as they are from agencies but unfortunately they’re not getting much of either,” Dr Coall said.

Click here for the survey.