Grandparent Carers

I draw the attention of the House to the plight of grandparents who must step in to raise their grandchildren. It is most fitting to raise this issue on the day that we apologised to parents who were willing to love and care for their children but who had them stolen. The children about whom I speak tonight have parents who do not have the skills to look after them. On Monday I spent some time with about a dozen grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. I found the meeting difficult because I heard stories about children who have been badly damaged and traumatised. Their parents’ drug use and mental illness means that they are unable to care for, love, nourish and raise their children, and the grandparents have stepped in to parent the children despite the fact that it is not their responsibility.

The grandparents told me stories about how difficult it is to work with government departments—the agencies that this Parliament oversees. They said that Federal and State government departments do not seem to be able to talk to each other. One woman said that she has been waiting for many months for the Department of Family and Community Services to obtain some files from Coonabarabran. She said that the information must be on a computer and that it would be easy for it to be emailed. Even if it is in hard copy, it could simply be sent to Maitland so that her case could be heard. After 11 months of caring for her five grandchildren, this woman is still not receiving any assistance.

Every time another grandchild arrives she must go through the Working with Children checking process yet again. That is ridiculous and a gross example of government bureaucracy gone mad. We must get this right. When grandparents take on the care of their grandchildren they know that when those children are ready to go out into the world they will probably be 70 or 80 years old. They might be living on the pension or their superannuation and they must spend it to raise their grandchildren. Dancing lessons, school fees, food and clothes are not cheap. That is money that they believed they would be able to spend on themselves so that they could enjoy their retirement. They do not begrudge spending that money on their grandchildren, but they would like some help.

They would appreciate the support of a caseworker to help them to navigate the bureaucracy. They believe that they are entitled to that assistance, but they have seen neither hide nor hair of any such person. They simply want someone to talk to who can advise them about the processes and any financial assistance to which they may be entitled. Some of the people to whom I spoke have had to extend their homes to accommodate their grandchildren or move from their retirement unit back into a family home and buy a bigger car, prams and cots. We must offer these people some support. They are exhausting their savings while they provide love, care and compassion to their grandchildren. The children have been delivered by bureaucrats who have dumped them on the doorstep and walked away. If they were foster parents the system would offer them a great deal more by way of assistance. However, because they are grandparents the Government does almost nothing for them. It is just not good enough.

One of the grandparents to whom I spoke told me that when they approached the Department of Family and Community Services for assistance they were threatened with the removal of their grandchildren because the house in which they live does not meet departmental standards. The not-so-subtle threat was that if the grandparent caused trouble or made waves by requesting compensation the department would remove the children. It pains me to think that the bureaucracy of this State would do that to grandparents who are caring for their grandchildren and offering them the support and love that every child deserves. I implore the Government to do better.