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Kinship care, no child's play for older relatives

AT 54, Lynne Edwards became a mother again to three of her grandchildren. Jordan, 8, was already spending weekdays with grandma when his mother asked Ms Edwards to come and get his four-year-old twin sisters, Ebony-Rose and Tahlia. That was eight months ago, and now the Edwards have permanent custody of all three while their mother struggles with drug addiction.

AT 54, Lynne Edwards became a mother again to three of her grandchildren. Jordan, 8, was already spending weekdays with grandma when his mother asked Ms Edwards to come and get his four-year-old twin sisters, Ebony-Rose and Tahlia. That was eight months ago, and now the Edwards have permanent custody of all three while their mother struggles with drug addiction.

"I've got these little children for the long haul," said Ms Edwards. "I explain that mummy loves them but she isn't able to look after them . . . I think these children understand a lot more than we give them credit for."

Ms Edwards and her husband Mark have cancelled their retirement plans and sunk their savings into the children they'll raise for another two decades.

"I don't know how older grandparents do it," Ms Edwards said. "When you get children that come from addicted families, you get all the baggage, you get all the trauma."

Without the specialist kinship care classes offered by foster care agencies Anglicare and Anchor, Ms Edwards says: "I couldn't have stayed sane and coped with all their little needs."

It's an increasingly common story. The number of state wards being cared for by relatives now 2395 by the end of the 2010-2011 financial year outstrips those in foster care by more than a third.

Around 60 per cent of children coming into child protection are in kinship care, as it is called.

While many families struggle with kinship care, Aboriginal families are under the greatest pressure, warns a new report from the Office of the Child Safety Commissioner.

"The acute unmet support needs of kinship carers are nowhere seen as vividly as in the Aboriginal community, where larger numbers of children are being cared for by carers living in straitened circumstances," says the Family Links report by Melbourne University Professor Cathy Humphreys and researcher Meredith Kiraly.

Child protection workers "don't tend to take into consideration the welfare of the kinship families," said an Aboriginal family member interviewed for the report. "So, frequently, unfortunately, because the family won't say no, they take on extra children and they put their own family at risk of falling apart as well."

Family tensions were rife across the system, the report said, especially when dealing with the parents. "Regular parental contact is not always desirable," notes the report.

"More energy needs to be put into facilitating other family relationships that are important for children."

Kinship carers "struggle against their ageing, financial difficulties, ill health and other hardships," said Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary at the report's launch.


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