More grandparents taking on role of caring for grandchildren, Senate told

GRANDPARENTS as the primary carers of their grandchildren is becoming more common, a Senate committee has heard. 

Family: Sean Haley and seven-year-old Alex Haley-Christy. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE

Family: Sean Haley and seven-year-old Alex Haley-Christy. PICTURE: LACHLAN BENCE

Ballarat grandfather Sean Haley, who with his wife shares custody of his grandson Alex with the boy’s paternal grandparents and father, said he had seen a change in people’s attitudes in the seven years he has looked after Alex. 

“It took a bit of explaining at first (when visiting the doctor), but it seems more normal now, people taking care of their grandchildren.” 

The Senate heard on Tuesday grandparents often lacked access to support services and financial aids available to parents. 

Commission for Children and Young People principal commissioner Bernie Geary called for tax breaks for grandparents with primary care, and a “gold card” to use for medical and education expenses. 

“It’s ridiculous that these people are on their knees, all the time,” he said. 

Although accurate numbers are hard to come by, government agency the Australian Institute of Family Studies estimated there were 30,000 grandparent-headed families at the time of the 2011 census, and possibly double that in informal care arrangements. 

Several organisations appearing before the committee, chaired by Greens senator Rachel Siewert, highlighted Aboriginal families as seeing primary care move to the grandparents at a much higher rate than other parts of society. 

Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative chief executive officer Karen Heap said this was not her experience in Ballarat. 

“From what I see in Victoria, (the Aboriginal community) is probably on a level par. Previously, it’s been more common though.” 

She said it seemed more children were moved away from violent and drug-affected parents, as there was more awareness over how children should be looked after. 

“Reporting of these issues is prevalent these days. It’s opened a Pandora’s box – in a good way – of children being moved into the care of grandparents, or uncles and aunties.”