Many struggle financially and emotionally. Does anybody care?
BY Barb Whittington,
Special to Times Colonist
June 23, 2010
Across B.C., more than 10,000 households with children are headed by grandparents. Since the Canadian census started tracking the number of households headed by grandparents, the numbers have risen significantly.
Who are these extended families who care for more children in B.C. than there are kids in foster care?
Here's a glimpse into two such households.
Dianne, 55, lives in a community up-Island. Her daughter suffers from mental illness and often cannot get the help she needs.
During a time when she was doing OK, she had twin girls. Soon, she wasn't doing well and became more and more distant from family and friends.
One evening, Grandma Dianne received a phone call from a ministry worker who said something like: "Can you take your grandkids or should they go into foster care? Likely if they go into care and your daughter still is unwell we would move toward adoption by a healthy family."
Dianne said yes, although she knew it would likely mean quitting work and having to move from her adult-only building. "They didn't even bring any clothes or a crib or a car seat for me," she recalls.
But the thought of the girls not being with family was something she couldn't consider.
Since that phone call five years ago, there have been many struggles, financial and emotional. The girls are now seven and doing better in school and the nightmares are easing.
Dianne went through legal aid and, at the urging of the ministry, applied for legal guardianship of the girls. She is not eligible for any help through the newly announced Extended Family Program because she has guardianship.
What would the situation be if the children had gone into foster care that evening?
From my past experience as a child protection social worker and my present experience as a registered counsellor and researcher, the children would not have fared as well. They could have been in a number of foster homes, might even have been split up, and in all likelihood they would have suffered emotionally from the lack of permanence and birth family in their wee lives.
Financially and emotionally, the costs are high.
Another grandparent couple (most are single grandmothers, most living below the poverty line) I would like you to meet are Johan and Fay.
Their son tried to raise his son Adam for a number of years after his wife committed suicide. Following a work-related injury, the father started using prescribed pain medication and now has a full-blown drug addiction.
Grandparents Johan, 70, and Fay, 68, live on a pension income. Following many frightening episodes with their son, they refused to let Adam, then 12, return to his dad. Adam said he was afraid of some of his dad's friends and worried when his dad went to sleep and he couldn't waken him. That reminds him of his mom's death.
There was one worker they had who really talked to Adam. Soon she was gone and now the family thinks that 'flying below the radar' might be best: "Adam doesn't do well with change and we are worried if we ask for any help that representative lady will see us as bad because I was once charged with assault trying to help my son."
Adam needs some school help from a tutor because of learning disabilities and he'd like to join cadets but both are beyond their budget. Grandma Fay says, "Someone might help, but we won't beg."
The Representative for Children and Youth's office says all families receiving payments need to be re-screened.
The children's ministry says there might be some new help for some grandparents but it would be reviewed every six months and you can't be a guardian. Do these ideas make sense?
While they argue, grandparents taking on the raising of their grandchildren need to be celebrated and supported.
The support shouldn't be temporary and you shouldn't be excluded if you followed ministry "orders" and went to court to get guardianship so your grandchildren would be safe and secure.
Adam and the little grandgirls know their grandparents care about them -- but who else does?
Barb Whittington is a professor in the
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Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Circles and Resources
GRG Support Circles are weekly to monthly support and information meetings for grandparents and other relatives who are the primary caregivers of grandchildren /nieces and nephews.Learn More
"Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: A Legal Guide" and Resource Book for Grandparents Publications
The GRG Pamphlet can be downloaded here - GRG. Legal Issues and Resources: A Brief BC Introduction (PDF)The GRG Guide can be downloaded here - GRG: A Legal Guide (PDF)
The GRG Resource Booklet can be downloaded here - GRG: A Resource Booklet (PDF)