9 September 2009
The Healing Power of Grandparents
A 2009 study of Grandparents raising Grandchildren in New Zealand has shown a high level of long-term commitment to the
children in spite of huge difficulties and little if any support.
Following a ground-breaking study of grandparent and other kin carers published in 2005, the Grandparents Raising
Grandchildren Trust commissioned a further study of long-term carers to examine how well the carers and grandchildren
had fared over time. Thirty-three percent of the children had been with the grandparents for ten years or longer, 49%
from 6 to 9 years and 18% between 4 and 5 years.
More than half the children were reported as having serious physical and psychological problems as a result of the abuse
and neglect they had before coming into their grandparents care. However, eighty-six percent reported significant
improvements over time. “The research shows this is directly attributed to the stability of care and the resilience and
commitment of the grandparents,” reports Jill Worrall, social work consultant and author of the report which will also
be presented at the inaugural Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust’s National Conference; ‘A Grandparent’s love, for
our children, for our future’ at the Ellerslie Convention Centre on 28 and 29 October 2009 during Grandparents Week
“While the grandparents described the joy of seeing the children recover and thrive, they also described the struggles
they experience. Deterioration in their own health as they advance in years, expensive legal wrangles to maintain
custody and a need for family were expressed along with a need for better and affordable housing, assistance with
education costs and clothing in many cases,” says Worrall.
The 2005 study revealed the precarious financial status of many of the grandparents. “Once again alarming statistics
have emerged in this report; with total family income being less than $20,000 p.a. for 22% of respondents and less than
$30,000 for 25% of respondents. Solo carers, who represented 38.6% of participants, were particularly financially
compromised. Several described a struggle to feed themselves and their children adequately. One carer stated a wish “not
to go to bed hungry,[for] clothes that fit, money to survive and not to have to worry about work and income and the
situation of my daughter”, says Worrall.
In April this year the Unsupported Child Benefit was raised to the same base weekly payment afforded to unrelated foster
carers. “This will assist, but grandparents raising grandchildren are not currently eligible for the ancillary payments
for clothing, health/medical and education costs that are available to foster carers,” says Diane Vivian; the Trust’s
founder and National Convenor. “Consequently many grandparents still face extreme hardship meeting the costs associated
with caring for children who need ongoing specialist medical, therapeutic or educational help as a result of the abuse
and trauma they suffered before their grandparents stepped in to care for them.”
Compared to recent data released by Child Youth and family in regard to numbers of placements experienced by children in
State Care, the children in the study sample have been afforded a high level of stability and rehabilitation. Recent
Child Youth and Family figures also show that the incidence of kinship care varies across cultures with 53% of Maori
children in need of care placed with whanau, 59% of Pacific Island children placed with fono compared to only 31% of
Pakeha children placed with their extended families. The study evidenced that the children in whanau/family care do
well, but their carers need on-going support to do this.