Most grandparents look forward to spending quality time with their grandkids, spoiling them and celebrating the special milestones in life.
But a growing number of grandparents in our community are having to reprise their parenting role all over again – taking on fulltime custody of their grandchildren to protect them from substance abuse, family violence and neglect.
The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Charitable Trust NZ was formed almost 20 years ago to help people adapt to these difficult circumstances and today supports over 5300 families nationwide. Trust CEO Kate Bundle says some children go into their grandparents’ care not long after birth but others don’t make the transition until they are teenagers.
“By then they have experienced a lot of trauma and chaos… these children are simply surviving. They haven’t actually experienced that real sense of security that is vital for healthy development and to enable them to have aspirtions in their lives. That's where the grandparent comes in. Providing that security and unconditional love so the healing process can begin,” Kate explains.
“But the grandparent has also experienced trauma. They’ve gone through the grief of their son or daughter actually neglecting or abusing their grandchild. It’s very hard and complex so our job is to try and de-code all of that and help them understand that what they possess within themselves is the knowledge, the wisdom, the resilience to overcome that and to promote a healing environment within the family.”
The Trust runs a caregiver education programme called SALT (Simply Acquired and Learned Techniques for caregivers) that focusses on trauma-informed care.
“The workshop helps the caregiver to decode what’s really going on for that child who has experienced trauma. Why they might act out and behave in the ways that they do. Some children withdraw or have attachment issues, but some children just explode into rage and it’s about understanding what may have triggered it and how to reach that child in a way that’s going to de-escalate that conflict and anxiety for that child.”
The Trust has now established 35 support groups and 12 informal coffee groups nationwide, several of which are operating in the Bay of Plenty including Taupo, Rotorua, Opotiki, Papamoa/Te Puke and a new group that is about to start in Katikati.
In the Bay of Plenty alone there are currently 923 grandparent or whanau caregivers looking after approximately 1700 children who have been removed from their parents’ care. Kate says the number one reason is drug abuse (methamphetamine followed by cannabis), with other prevalent issues including parents being unable to cope, family violence, neglect and alcohol addiction.
The Trust employs support group co-ordinators and special advocates who offer on-the-ground help and advice to grandparents. They will accompany them to Work and Income appointments to ensure they receive the right income support entitlements, act as a support person at family group conferences or meetings with Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children), organise emergency food packages or other social support, and hold monthly meetings so grandparents can meet other locals in the same situation as themselves.
“We often organise guest speakers who can help them around grief and anxiety or dealing with foetal alcohol syndrome or just self-care because looking after yourself as a caregiver is incredibly important. In order to hold it all together, you need to take that time out and look after yourself,” Kate explains.
Only 11% of the Trust’s annual operating budget is covered by government-funding – the rest has to be found elsewhere.
BayTrust has approved a $34,000 grant to help cover operating costs so the support groups in the Bay of Plenty can continue in the immediate future. Some of the money will also go towards maintaining the Trust’s 0800 number, the production of a bi-monthly newsletter for member families, and providing the specialist advocacy service.
“We’re really delighted to get the support from BayTrust,” Kate says. “We see them as an important funder in the region. We know their purpose very much aligns with ours so we’re thrilled that they agree and have approved these funds.”