Grandparents caring for vulnerable children say they need more support
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Many Australian carers are grandparents caring for vulnerable relatives living out-of-home and they are not getting the support services they need, according to a research report by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Institute Director Anne Hollonds said the report, Working together to care for kids: A survey of foster and relative/kinship carers, found relative/kinship carers were less likely to access the professional support and training they needed for their role than foster carers.
“Both foster carers and relative/kinship carers reported a need for more professional services including child counselling, respite care and access to support groups,” she said.
“However, relative/kinship carers were less likely than foster carers to access support services or training sessions despite often having been approached by child protection agencies to take on the care of a young relative.
“Most of the relative/kinship care is falling to grandparents – with two thirds of kinship carers now grandparents or even great-grandparents.
“Relative/kinship carers are mostly grandmothers who are financially less well-off and experiencing more health problems. They take on the care of a vulnerable child who has been abused or neglected, often with limited support or preparation themselves for the complex challenges that lie ahead of them.
“The children live with them for an average of three to four years and have commonly been exposed to family violence and alcohol and drug issues. Despite these complex issues, just over a third of relative/kinship carers ever received some form of training compared to nine in ten foster carers.
“In some cases, there was a lack of awareness of what services were available. For example, many carers were unaware of the Grandparent Adviser phone line which provides assistance to all carers, although the majority of those who had tried it found it to be very useful.”
The report was released to mark Families Week (May 15-21). Ms Hollonds said it was a timely reminder of the valuable role kinship/foster carers play in caring for vulnerable children and family members.
Institute Senior Research Fellow, Dr Lixia Qu said the national study examined the support needs of registered out-of-home carers, including relative/kinship and foster carers who had at least one child currently living with them.
“In some cases, both relative/kinship and foster carers stepped into the role without being fully aware of the child’s history and developmental issues until after they had come to live with them,” she said.
“More than half of the children had experienced emotional abuse yet only one-fifth of carers reported that they only became aware of this after the child was in their care.”
Dr Qu said many carers experienced difficulties and almost half said they were unlikely to look after another child in future, some suggesting that they were getting ‘too old’ and others that the emotional investment had taken its toll.
“Despite the difficulties, an overwhelming 90 per cent of all carers believed they were making a positive difference in a child’s life, and caring for these children was a rewarding experience,” she said.
*This research was commissioned and funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services.
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