Grandparents under more pressure to take care of kids

Growing awareness of parental mental health and addiction problems has put increasing pressure on grandparents, who may suddenly be asked to take custody of their children’s children, says a Mangawhai social services coordinator.

Sue Poynter, of the Te Whai Community Trust, based in Molesworth Drive, says it’s difficult to know whether there is an increase in such problems or whether they are being more readily reported.

But whatever the case, grandparents are increasingly finding themselves responsible for the care of children who may well be traumatised due to their troubled relationship with their parents.

Some of their parents are in jail, others may be undergoing drug or alcohol rehabilitation.

Finding there was little help for such grandparents in Mangawhai, Te Whai decided to set up a support group, Grandparents Who are Caring for Grandchildren, to meet their needs.

The group is about to turn one year old.

Sue says grandparents caring for children often end up dealing with a situation that they never planned for and find they are ill-equipped.

“Suddenly the grandparent goes from being the benevolent one, who can afford to be a little bit indulgent, to the primary carer where they have to be disciplinarians and set boundaries. Kids often kick against these, so it puts them in a difficult situation,” Sue says.

Moreover, if the grandparent has been awarded custody after a long court battle, they may be suffering some degree of trauma themselves.

“These are not happy stories. They are often very complex.”  

Nevertheless, she says family courts increasingly look to grandparents to take custody. There are no longer any orphanages in New Zealand, adoption is rapidly declining and courts would prefer to place children with members of their existing family, rather than in foster care with another family.

Sue says in many ways this is a good thing. Grandparents are more likely to always be there for their grandchildren and show them unconditional love.     

At the same time, it’s important that society recognises this is a huge ask for grandparents who may well be in their 60s or 70s.

Sue says the support group provides parent coaching, counselling and food parcels if necessary.

It also holds monthly meetings where outside experts are brought in to give further insight into navigating the varied challenges grandparents face.

Sue says one problem for grandparents in this predicament is that they become socially isolated from their peers because their regular activities are disrupted. One of the benefits of the support group has been to bring parenting grandparents together.

“They are able to share their experiences, share some tips on what has worked for them and get affirmation that what they are doing is a good thing. Children don’t always tell them that,” she says.

Grandparents Who are Caring for Grandchildren meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 10am in the Pioneer Village Schoolhouse next to Mangawhai Museum.

Info: Te Whai Community Trust Mangawhai on Facebook or call 021 024 78003