There is a growing number of grandparents who for various reasons find themselves responsible for bringing up their grandchildren. Addiction is cited as one of the main reasons grandparents are put in this position.
On the Central Coast, NSW, there are 160 known families who are being cared for full-time by their grandparents. It is a role that can be stressful for all parties involved. The circumstances are complex and varied. Mourning an old way of life takes a back seat to focusing on the problems at hand. More often than not there is more than one child who needs to be cared for and it’s not always possible for all the children to go to the one family. There can be Court cases pending, financial support is limited, and there is the concern that the children could at any time be taken back and put in vulnerable positions. There is also the sense of shame and a desire not to involve authorities which results in informal arrangements.
Relationships Australia explained – ‘Some grandparents do not want to draw attention to themselves by applying for social security benefits.’ Trying to prove that the children are in their care can be fraught, as is trying to get an understanding of what things as grandparents they are entitled to.
Whilst it is not the life many grandparents anticipated, they have no qualms about stepping into this role. Adrienne Howison, now in her seventies, had already brought up four of her own children when her daughter succumbed to cancer in 1999 at only 38 years of age. Her daughter had been in an abusive relationship with the children’s father who was incarcerated at the time she died. Having nursed her daughter through the last stages of her life at her home in Woy Woy, Mrs Howison had to attend Wyong Court the very same day her daughter died.
She says ‘Christmas times were the hardest’, trying to figure out what to get each of the five grandchildren in her care. ‘What would her daughter buy them’?
‘There was no respite available but support came from some very generous people.’ A counsellor at the school provided extensive counselling to all the children, a wonderful principal provided clothing, a nun called Sister Pat was in the background turning up with food hampers and clothes.
Mrs Howison who didn’t drive or have a partner to share the burden with said that there was never a dull moment, and by 1 o’clock in the morning you could sit back and relax and think “another day over”.
Unfortunately there are those families who have to relinquish care as they find themselves isolated and with not enough support to continue. Obviously it is better for the children to remain with family than be fostered out. The children are already contending with more than they should have to as children and are often damaged and in need of a secure environment.
Over the years Adrienne Howison, who is originally from Taree and has been living on the Central Coast for more than 40 years, has had to attend many Court cases in order to keep her five grandchildren in her care. The last Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) she had taken out on her grandchildren’s father only ran out last year. She is a modest and generous woman who is still very much involved in her grandchildren’s lives.