Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Underground Foster Care: Over 10,000 Grandparent Households Raising Grandchildren in BC

Grandparents struggle to raise grandkids

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 University of Victoria school of social work, editor of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: A Legal Guide (2009) and a grandmother in training.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist


From Parent Support Services Society of BC

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)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lives are Lost When Systems are Cut: Mental health in BC

Failure of System Spirals into Family Tragedy
Jack Knox, Times Colonist, June 16 2010


Her parents desperately tried to get her help, but there was always a barrier, a box that couldn't be ticked, to prevent her from getting into a program or facility. "There was always something that didn't fit," George says. Most of the time, the system would spit her back out, so it fell to her parents to pick up the pieces on their own.

Her parents' pleas that she needed to be in a psychiatric hospital with ongoing treatment fell on deaf ears. Laura lost 100 pounds.

On April 7, she went to court, where the court-appointed psychiatrist suggested federal time -- two years plus -- so that she could get better mental-health treatment not available at the provincial system. The judge agreed.

A week later, on April 19, 2009, Laura Schellenberg finally gave up. She hanged herself in the family home. She was 34 years old.

"The judicial and mental-health systems don't converse," says Alice. "They don't know what to do with these people," says George. "It is no use throwing good money after bad if the system is dysfunctional."

More of the story

My comments:

It would be helpful if people really understood the broad strokes of what is happening in the mental health and addictions areas, as well the criminal justice system (not to mention income assistance, housing, health care...). Things are being taken apart, brick by brick, what do we think happens when this is how governments "work" these days.

300 individuals in Victoria used to have MH case management and treating psychiatrists. With the stroke of a pen, all of those people lost that community MH care. Eric Martin Pavilion lost 10 beds in 2009. Beds have been slashed for the homeless in Victoria. As have community agencies.
This is happening around the province of BC.

FYI - Riverview Hospital has not entirely shut down but it is well along the way to it. Part of what individuals, families and communities are experiencing is people who desperately require adult tertiary psychiatric care are out on the streets and suffering terribly. One thing people can do is let your elected officials, both MLA's and MP's, know that MH & addictions funding is a priority for your communities and for people who need it.

This story illustrates the painful story of a woman who could not get the care she needed and her parents (any of us could be in their shoes as a relative) who slammed up against the walls that prevent better accessibility to MH care. When people don't get it, they do terrible, tragic things to themselves and others.
People with mental illness deserve to live with dignity, support and timely and responsive care just like any of us expect for our health.

Mental Health Gaps Deadly for Too Many
Marilyn Erickson, Times Colonist, June 16, 2010

The recent tragic death of Justin Wendland should be a call to action for all levels of government, but in particular the Vancouver Island Health Authority, who sit at the table with the Health Ministry and have failed to convince them of the need for action.

As an addiction worker, too many times I've had clients released from psychiatric emergency while still struggling with suicidal or threatening thoughts and behaviour. In all cases they have gone on to commit violent acts or tragically taken their own lives, when a successful intervention, psychiatric care and lengthy stay may have prevented it.

Last week, a client was admitted twice and twice he was released the following day while still threatening harm to himself or others and struggling with his addictive behaviour. He was a danger to others in that state, and predictably attempted the following night to take his own life.

Admitted back to psych emerg and found certifiable, he was unable to obtain a bed and was again released in less than 24 hours with a prescription for medication but no followup co-ordinated care plan. It happens often and it is unconscionable and unacceptable!

Additional money for the underfunded, understaffed Archie Courtnall Centre at the Royal Jubilee Hospital is a priority, as is a 24/7 drop-in centre offering immediate care for the mentally ill and addicted, many whom we know are homeless and unable to cope without supports in place.

Along with affordable housing, we must have access to more immediate and longer treatment options, including at least 20 new crisis beds.

Recent cuts at VIHA eliminated beds at Eric Martin Pavilion just when we need them the most.

The problem needs to be funded and addressed immediately or we will have more senseless tragedies.

Marilyn Erickson