JCU’s Associate Professor Susan Gair said her new study showed grandparents are increasingly involved in the care of their grandchildren, particularly after a child has been removed from their parents over safety concerns.
“In 2017-18 year more than 159,000 children had an investigation, care and protection order, or were placed in out-of-home care in Australia. In the jurisdictions with available data, 50% of children in formal kinship placements were living with grandparents, and it’s likely there are many more informal arrangements,” said Dr Gair.
The study was a partnership with several key community-based organisations and also involved JCU researchers Lyn Munns and Dr Ines Zuchowski.
Dr Gair said it was well established that grandparent kinship carers often do not receive the support, resources, or clinical services required to meet their grandchildren’s needs, and they are less likely than foster carers to be offered training or respite care.
“Yet grandparent kinship carers may need a higher level of support than other carers, in part because they are often less well-off than non-relative foster carers. Other studies point out that while taking up the kin carer role in later life is a familiar cultural obligation for many Aboriginal carers, non-Indigenous grandparents may feel unprepared for the role,” said Dr Gair.
She said researchers had found a stigma against grandparents can exist after child protection concerns emerge, with grandparents feeling they are judged as ‘somehow responsible for what’s gone wrong’ within the family.
Many grandparents also spoke of the frustration of being overlooked in decision-making about their grandchildren, even when they had been providing primary care for the grandchildren.
Dr Gair said it is universally acknowledged that child protection work involves difficult, stressful decisions, made in highly complex circumstances with competing risks and uncertainties.
“But what we’re seeing sometimes is a bias against older people, from some individual protection workers and from the system itself. Many grandparents want to maintain a significant role in their grandchildren’s lives after child safety issues emerged, however, they often felt powerless, unsupported, and sidelined from decision‐making in the best interests of their grandchildren,” she said.
Dr Gair recommended grandparents receive greater recognition as willing, capable kinship carers, and recommended child protection systems increase family-inclusive practices that provide better support and resources to kinship carers.