COMMITTEES;Community Affairs References Committee;Report – 29 Oct 2014

 I rise to speak on the report to the Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into grandparents who take primary responsibility for raising their grandchildren. I am pleased I was able to participate in this inquiry and to hear firsthand the concerns of grandparents who do such a wonderful job in usually very trying circumstances. When a grandparent does become a primary carer for a grandchild, it is almost always in tragic or unfortunate circumstances. Whether the child has been orphaned, the parents have a substance abuse problem or a debilitating illness, or whatever the reason that prevents them from being able to care for the child or children in question, it is the grandparents who step in and pick up the pieces.

I have two sets of very dear friends, both of whom have brought up grandchildren. One set took on a grandchild who was three. I have seen firsthand how it has affected their lifestyle and delayed their retirement, and a whole range of areas

The other set of really good friends took on two young girls, one with a very severe heart illness. I have seen also how it has changed their lives. They would all do it again, but they would like to do it with a bit more help and support.

Too often, these grandparents might receive a call in the middle of the night telling them to pick up their grandchildren or just have their children unexpectedly left in their care. Having spent their lives raising their children, they then face that emotional and monetary cost of raising a second generation, spending time and money that they were expecting to contribute to their retirement.

There is very little support for these grandparents and very little information on who they should turn to or where they should turn to for support. They are faced with a minefield of issues that make it difficult for them to provide the care their grandchildren need, whether it is gaining emergency clothing and bedding when the child first comes into their care or gaining custody through the court system, receiving the minimal assistance Centrelink provides, getting the child on their Medicare card or even interacting with the child’s school. Roadblocks are constantly placed in their way.

This report has made 18 recommendations that if adopted by this government will make life considerably easier for grandparents raising grandchildren. I would like to take a few moments to focus on a couple of those recommendations. One of the key concerns of grandparents raising grandchildren is the lack of financial assistance they are able to receive from Centrelink and other government agencies. Many grandparents raising their grandchildren are aged pensioners or part-age pensioners, or moving very close to that pension age. They often have limited financial resources available to them.

The committee’s recommendation 9 recommends that state and territory governments consider extending foster-care allowances to grandparents who are raising their grandchildren without orders from a court, exercising family-law jurisdiction or care-and-protection jurisdiction, and investigating means of facilitating contact arrangements between children in grandparent headed families and their birth parents.

The committee hopes that this recommendation will help grandparents meet some of the additional costs, associated with raising their grandchildren, which are currently unmet. This recommendation would also help children being raised by grandparents to spend time with their birth parents, if possible, without the grandparents having fear of losing the child or children.

Committee recommendation 10 raised a number of important issues that need addressing. The committee recommends: state and territory governments consider reviewing the rates of financial assistance paid to grandparents as out-of-home carers, with particular consideration to addressing the disparity in financial support between foster carers and grandparents; the provision of training to grandparents raising their grandchildren, to better support them in their daily parenting roles; the provision of respite services to grandparents raising their grandchildren, with a focus on enhancing and extending those services to all grandparents raising grandchildren; the formal assessment of kinship care placement within six months of the commencement of a placement, with a view to ascertaining specific supports and services required by a grandparent carer; and existing policies and practices relating to the priority allocation of public housing, with a view to expediting accommodation suitable to the needs of grandparent headed families.

Other recommendations dealt with a diverse range of issues and these included: exploring options for providing informal grandparent carers with access to legal assistance, including legal representation in relation to care arrangements for the grandchildren; enhancing the provision of mental-health services for grandparent headed families, with special attention given to grandchildren affected by trauma; and examining increased and more certain funding for voluntary support groups that provide peer support to grandparents raising grandchildren, to better facilitate the establishment, maintenance and operation of such groups.

I too hope the government will adopt the recommendations of this report. It will dramatically change and improve the lives of those extremely caring and selfless grandparents and their grandchildren. I thank Senator Smith—for heading this inquiry—Senator Siewert, Senator Brown and Senator Moore. I also thank the secretariat for the great work they have done in supporting this inquiry.

Most of all, I thank all the witnesses, especially the grandparents and the grandchildren we heard from, for sharing their lives and their concerns with us. I know that for a lot of them it was not easy and there were some quite emotional times through the inquiry. To come in and lay it on the line to us took great courage for a lot of them. It is very easy to feel you might be judged in that area. My friends told me it is very easy to feel judged—that if you said you might need some money you would be told you should do it for the love of it. They do it for the love of it—but a lot of them also need some financial support, and if they need that financial support it is incumbent upon us to make sure they can get it.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in the inquiry. It was one of the most interesting inquiries in my almost-seven years in this place. I was really pleased to be able to participate. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted. Debate adjourned.