Financial challenges and supports
One of the greatest practical challenges for grandparents raising
grandchildren is the costs associated with that care.
The financial circumstances of grandparents and the costs incurred in raising
the children create multiple difficulties, which affect many aspects of
families' day-to-day lives. Government financial assistance is available to
some grandparents, with most grandparents who raise their grandchildren in
informal care arrangements financially supporting the children without
An inter-related issue is that grandparents frequently choose not to
claim Commonwealth financial assistance, despite a clear entitlement to the
payment(s). The committee consistently heard that the grandparents often fear
repercussions from the birth parents, if payments to the parents were to cease.
Potential repercussions include intimidation, violence and the removal of
grandchildren in informal care arrangements.
For example, Wanslea Family Services Inc. (Wanslea) submitted:
The children's parents will often still be claiming Family
Tax Benefit...and in order to 'keep the peace' and avoid conflict
grandparents will not challenge this. Keeping the peace means of course that
grandparents don't threaten their grandchildren's place in their home and
therefore ensure their ongoing care and protection.
In this chapter, the committee examines:
the financial circumstances of grandparents raising grandchildren;
the financial challenges of raising grandchildren;
Commonwealth, state and territory financial assistance;
access to government financial assistance;
improved financial assistance for grandparents raising
Financial circumstances of grandparents raising grandchildren
According to Australian researchers, grandparent-headed families exhibit
characteristics which are more likely to result in financial disadvantage,
compared with other family types.
For example, in the areas of employment, where grandparents often change their
employment arrangements as a result of taking on the care of their
and income, where average incomes are relatively low.
Table 3.1–Average gross household weekly income
$80 to < $500
$500 to < $1,000
$1,000 or more
Source: Yardley, A.,
Mason, J. and E. Watson (2009), Kinship Care in NSW: Finding a way forward,
Social Justice and Social Change Research Centre, University of Western Sydney,
Sydney, p. 33.
COTA Australia (COTA) summarised the position of many grandparents
Many grandparents have already left work before taking on the
caring role and are struggling on fixed low incomes which have to be stretched
to meet the needs of children. Others cut back their hours or gave up work so
that they could care for their grandchildren, which put them under more
financial pressure at times when their expenses increased.
A lack of, or diminished, paid employment can also affect long‑term
financial circumstances. In addition to the immediate loss of, or reduction in,
wages, career prospects, superannuation and workplace entitlements (such
as personal/carer's leave and long service leave) are affected.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) commented that these
impacts are highly gendered, as women normally undertake the greater share of
In support of this comment, Mrs Kim Killey noted, 'Women of my generation
worked part time, had little jobs and made up for things...[my husband] was the
main breadwinner. That was the generation'.
In respect of superannuation, National Seniors noted figures reported by
the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM) in 2010,
showing that the average superannuation balance for men aged 55‑64
years is $113,200 and $54,500 for women in the same age bracket.
National Seniors concluded:
The high costs of raising grandchildren...will inevitably lead
to the rapid erosion of retirement savings and a higher reliance on government
income support over time. This is especially so when grandparents are raising
more than one child.
Economic disadvantage may also result from other factors, such as: a
lack of knowledge regarding government financial assistance, or an inability or
unwillingness to access available entitlements.
Financial challenges in raising grandchildren
For many grandparents, taking on the primary care of grandchildren can lead
to extreme financial stress or poverty,
with the grandparents incurring a number of potentially long-term expenditures,
initial establishment costs (such as clothing, personal items,
medications, furniture, linen, special equipment–prams, car seats, personal
day-to-day living expenses (such as food, clothing, school
uniforms and equipment, transport, special events–birthdays, Christmas); and
medical expenses for complex health needs.
National Seniors has previously reported:
Many grandparents struggle with the cost of raising their
grandchildren. Apart from the normal day to day costs that families usually
have, these grandchildren often involve greater expense than other
children because of their psychological, emotional and physical health care
Participants in the inquiry commented on how the poor financial
circumstances of grandparent-headed families affects both grandparents and
grandchildren. Grandparents For Grandchildren SA Inc., for example, submitted:
As the children grow, their needs increase—keeping up with
their peers is difficult as they are unable to form worthwhile friendships,
often due to the lack of finance to "do the same things others can afford
to do" e.g. they only make friends with "like" children, thereby
hindering their emotional progress.
One grandchild stated:
[Nana] got a carer's pension, I was on disability too because
I was sick for a long time...I realise how hard now that really was for her, and
that I took it all for granted. I always wanted things and I was like, 'Why
can't I have that?'...There was times she would take me down to the community
house to get food vouchers. But she'd always make me stay in the waiting room
because she didn't want me to come in to know what she was actually doing. I
always knew it but she would never actually admit it to me and probably herself
I think they need to put in for Centrelink, a special thing
for grandparents. A lot of grandparents will be on pensions, and that just
doesn't cover living costs of two people, it barely covers one person. So I
think that, because my Nana's had to use a lot of her own savings to
bring me up, she's done that willingly, and she's done that, she's given
me a lot of really good experiences in my childhood, but she's had to use her
own money to do a lot of the looking after. So she hasn't got much.
Commonwealth, state and territory financial assistance
The Commonwealth, state and territory governments currently provide
financial assistance to some grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. The type
and extent of this assistance depends on a range of factors, such as: the type
of care arrangement (formal/informal); characteristics of the placement; and
Commonwealth financial assistance
Commonwealth financial assistance is based on the full-time care of a
child. Accordingly, the legal status of a care arrangement (formal/informal)
does not affect a grandparent's entitlement to Commonwealth assistance.
Further, state or territory government financial assistance is not considered
taxable income for the purposes of Commonwealth entitlements.
The Department of Human Services (Department) administers several financial
Family Tax Benefit (Part A and Part B) and Parenting Payment
(family allowances)–to help with the cost of raising children;
Child Care Benefit, Grandparent Child Care Benefit and Child Care
Rebate–to help with the cost of using child care services; and
Carer Payment and Carer Allowance–income support payments for
people who care for someone with a disability, medical condition or who is
Grandparents raising grandchildren might also be entitled to receive
child support from a grandchild's birth parents. The grandparents can apply to
the Child Support Agency for a child support assessment and must then apply to
receive child support from the parents, except in limited circumstances.
Evidence received throughout the inquiry referred primarily to Family
Tax Benefit Part A and Family Tax Benefit Part B, the rates of which are
presented in Table 3.2 and Table 3.3 below.
Table 3.2–Family Tax Benefit Part A–Maximum rates
Source: Centrelink, A
guide to Australian Government payments: 20 September-31 December 2014,
2014, p. 3.
Table 3.3–Maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit Part B
Source: Centrelink, A
guide to Australian Government payments: 20 September-31 December 2014,
2014, p. 6.
Submitters and witnesses also referred to the Parenting Payment, which
has a base rate of $720.30 per fortnight (for single parents) and $465.50 per
fortnight (for partnered parents). A range of supplements, payments and
allowances are also available.
State and territory financial
State and territory governments provide financial assistance to some grandparents
raising grandchildren. A 2010 report commissioned by the Department of Social
Services (formerly the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and
Indigenous Affairs) outlined broad similarities and differences in the
provision of this assistance between and within jurisdictions:
foster carers and formal kinship carers receive the same payments
within each jurisdiction but most states and territories do not provide
financial support to informal kinship carers;
each jurisdiction graduates payments according to the age and
needs of the child, with a base rate of allowances which is supplemented for
children and young people with additional needs. There are large differences in
the base rates, as well as the age and needs-based graduations; and
payments are generally discontinued after the child turns 18
years of age, unless the child is in school and subject to further conditions
in some jurisdictions.
The Parliamentary Library of the Commonwealth of Australia recently published
a comparative table, showing the nationwide differences between the base rate
of allowances (in the lowest age and needs band) and the supplemented rate (in the
highest age and needs band). Table 3.4 below replicates and updates this
Table 3.4–State and territory fortnightly carer payments
age band/needs (formal care)
age band/needs (formal care)
to informal carers
Family Placement Program and Relatives
Source: Parliamentary Library, FlagPost, Financial
support to grandparents raising grandchildren, 24 March 2014, p. 2,
available at: http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/FlagPost/2014/March/Grandparent_carers
(accessed 6 September 2014).
As shown in Table 3.4, three states provide some financial assistance to
grandparents raising grandchildren under informal care arrangements:
in New South Wales, the Supported Care Allowance is paid at the
same rates as formal care allowances, subject to an assessment that a child is
in need of care and protection, and is not able to remain safely with one or
both birth parents;
in Tasmania, the Supported Extended Family Placement Program
provides foster care reimbursements to 150 carers and the Relatives Care Allowance
provides 59 carers with $1,696.00 per annum, subject to conditions;
in Western Australia, the Grandcarers Support Scheme entitles
carers to a $400 payment for the first child aged under 16 years and $250 for
each additional grandchild, subject to conditions.
New South Wales, Western Australia
As noted by the AHRC,
there is considerable variation in the financial assistance provided to
grandparents raising grandchildren by state and territory governments, based on
the grandparents' legal status. Within jurisdictions where some assistance is
provided to grandparents raising grandchildren under informal care arrangements,
submitters and witnesses described mixed results in the grandparents' access to
In New South Wales, Dr Bridget Jenkins advised that:
...the vast majority of grandparents are not eligible [for the
Supported Care Allowance due to child protection authorities deeming children
in the care of grandparents as not in need of care and protection], and in fact
the vast majority of grandparents raising grandchildren under informal arrangements
are not known to child protection authorities.
In Western Australia, Wanslea, which administers the Grandcarers
Support Scheme, stated that over 450 grandparents have accessed the payment(s)
since the scheme's launch in November 2013.
Evidence to the committee suggested that the application rate might be affected
by the conduct of a risk assessment by the Department for Child Protection and
Family Support (WA), which can take place at the time of application.
In Tasmania, financial supports are available to formal and some
informal carers, as is the Gateways Supporting Grandparent Carers Program
(delivered by Mission Australia and Baptcare), which provides 'financial
assistance to cover the cost of essential items'.
Access to government financial assistance
Although government financial assistance may be available, submitters
and witnesses stated that grandparents raising grandchildren experience
multiple difficulties in accessing these supports. Access difficulties
described to the committee included: knowledge of the available supports and
services; eligibility requirements; and interactions with government
departments and agencies.
Knowledge of available supports and
Participants in the inquiry stated that grandparents do not have
sufficient access to current and reliable information about government supports
and services (financial and non-financial). For some grandparents, this is due
to the information not being presented in an appropriate language
or in a culturally sensitive manner.
For other carers, the manner in which information is delivered–such as
through online services–can be an issue.
Blue Care, Multicultural Services submitted:
Accurate and complete information and advice, available in
community languages, and advocacy support for [culturally and linguistically
diverse (CALD)] grandparents should be accessible. Phone, computer and print
material need to be complemented by face-to-face advice, as well as information
sessions for those who are less literate. A One-Stop-Shop at Centrelink with a
'Seniors Worker' who cannot only provide information and referral, but
individual advocacy with the help of interpreters could be considered.
Blue Care, Multicultural Services noted the importance of this information
for CALD grandparents raising grandchildren, who might come from countries
where the system is different, non-existent or less restrictive in terms of
However, the committee heard that, for many grandparents, simply knowing
where to find information is problematic. As one grandparent told UnitingCare
Tasmania, 'I didn't know who to turn to or where to go'.
Another grandparent, Mrs Ann Robertson, similarly stated:
[I]nformation about what support services are available is
out in the ether. I know that Gateway provides some sort of support for
grandparents when people come into care—when kids come into care. I found that
out about two or three years after I got my grandkids. Two years after my
eldest granddaughter started school I found out that we were entitled to a
subsidy from the state government towards school fees. We now get it but we did
not for the first few years, because there is no central place to find out what
you can get and where you can get it. One of the first places you go to as a
grandparent is Centrelink. The next place you go to is Medicare. Why is there
not a nice little pamphlet there that says: 'You're a grandparent. Here are
some things you need to know. These are all the people you need to contact to find
out what you can get'. It is not hard and it would solve so many problems
really quickly and really easily.
The SPRC has previously reported:
Given the difficulties that grandparents have in negotiating
service systems, and the complexity of these systems—with family payments from
Commonwealth governments, kinship care payments from state/territory
governments, and support groups and other services provided by state, local and
[non‑government organisations]—the importance of improving the
accessibility of these systems was consistently identified.
Some submitters proposed solutions to improve the accessibility of information
for grandparents raising grandchildren. Wanslea, for example, endorsed the
establishment of telephone help lines, indicating that this is the best way in
which to expeditiously deliver personalised and comprehensive information to grandparents:
In times of emergency or crisis, it is difficult to obtain and/or
retain large amounts of information, therefore access to a 'one stop shop'
phone number is very helpful for grandparent carers. Wanslea's Grandcare
Information Line receives approximately 100 calls a month. Many grandparent
carers don't have the skills or interest to successfully access web-based
information, so accessible written or oral communication is most suited to
The Australian Association of Social Workers agreed that targeted
written communication would better support the information needs of grandparents
All potential and existing kinship carers [should be]
provided with "Resource Kits" that include detailed and localised
information on relevant and available financial, legal and support services.
This should include information on which allowances and benefits they may be
entitled to and how to access these; and information on formal and informal
support networks such as kinship carer support groups.
The AHRC similarly argued that there is a 'strong case' to consolidate
information into one easily accessible publication, suggesting:
That an appropriate [non-government organisation] or
government body be funded and tasked to write a national resource consolidating
all information and practical support that may be required by grandparent
carers— including their entitlements, access to respite, childcare, and contact
details for peer to peer support groups.
Participants also suggested that, in addition to the provision of
information by non-government organisations (such as support groups and
community service providers), governments should take a more proactive role in
this regard, by working toward the establishment of a peak body.
Clearly there is a need for the states and territories to
improve the information services. The Commonwealth could assist by looking at
ways it could support a national peak body for grandparent carers that could
have an emphasis on information and public awareness. There have been
discussions about this at various times that have been inconclusive and the
funding may need to be for a network of organisations rather than one single
entity, at least initially.
The Aged-care Rights Service Inc. extended COTA's proposal, arguing that
a national support service could also offer independent and confidential advice
to grandparents raising grandchildren across a number of specialist areas:
[A Grandparents Support Service] could be staffed by social
workers experienced in child care and protection, doctors, emergency housing
referees, legal practitioners and access to appropriate support workers for
Aboriginal and CALD grandparents. The service would have to be funded so
that it can provide real assistance. If it was established as a statewide
service it should have outreach services that can assist in rural, regional and
Submitters and witnesses noted the variable financial supports provided
to grandparents raising grandchildren by state and territory governments,
including, in most cases, the lack of financial support provided to
grandparents raising the children under informal care arrangements. The
committee heard that all grandparents should receive financial support similar
to that provided to foster carers.
The Mirabel Foundation considered:
This would make a real difference to families and ease some
of the financial strain that they experience in unexpectedly taking on the care
of their grandchildren.
The SPRC has noted that, as the care responsibilities are identical, the differential
treatment between foster carers and grandparents raising grandchildren strikes
many of the latter as 'extremely unjust'[.]
The National Council of Women of Australia agreed:
Grandparents should receive the same benefits as a fostering
couple when taking responsibility for the upbringing of their grandchildren.
There is no difference between the two—they undertake the same job.
Participants described how foster and kinship carer payments vary across
and within jurisdictions. For example, Mr Andrew Jackomos, Commissioner for
Aboriginal Children and Young People (Vic) gave the following evidence in
[T]here is discrimination between caregiver reimbursements to
foster carers and kinship carers. The highest rate for kinship care is $11,454
in Victoria compared to $36,187 for foster carers. Tailored care packages for
children with complex needs receive a similar reimbursement of $36,000. I
suggest that most Koori kids in care will have multiple and complex needs, and
the payment to kinship carers is inadequate in Victoria.
Mr Graham Benporath in Albany reflected on the financial assistance he
has received as an informal grandparent raising grandchildren ($400 from the
Grandcarers Support Scheme, Family Tax Benefit Part B and the Schoolkids Bonus),
contrasting this amount with that paid to foster carers:
I have got a paper here that looks at foster carers and the
remuneration that they get. This is for a 12-year-old child. They get a basic
subsidy of $416.16 a fortnight. The kids get $8 a fortnight for pocket money.
They get $235.28 every four months for clothing, and then the [grandparents]
are entitled to five days a month of respite. Adding all that up–and there is a
lot more to that–it comes to around $20,000 for one child. If you look at the
next bracket up, which is for children from 13 to 17, it goes up by another
$2,000. So you can see the help that we get from the governments–the state and
the federal governments–is a pittance compared to what they are getting there.
At the Hobart public hearing, Mr John Ward described the allowances
which informal grandparents raising grandchildren have been entitled to receive:
$28 under the Relatives Care Allowance (which has now closed for new
applications) and a clothing allowance:
We had a clothing allowance in the south. It was $150 with
$15 GST, which made it $165. That was never paid in the north or the
north-west. Don't kids get cold in the north or north-west? Where do they cut
it off? They cut it off at Oatlands [?]. You cannot get it any further than
Oatlands. I said to the minister, 'Come on, be fair. Why don't they get it up
there?' Anyway, I said, 'I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll give you a month to
provide the clothing allowance money to the north and the north-west; otherwise
I'll bring a busload of grandparents down here and [we'll] go before the
discrimination board'. He said, 'You can't–but you will'. I said,
'Definitely'...I got it.
Interactions with government
departments and agencies
Throughout the inquiry, participants related their interactions with
government departments and agencies. In addition to a perceived lack of
understanding and support (see Chapter 2), the committee heard that
grandparents raising grandchildren experience problems with paperwork, due to volume,
complexity and a lack of supporting documentation (such as birth certificates,
immunisation records, et cetera), as well as administrative delays.
Mrs Kathleen Hall gave the following example of an experience with Centrelink
It was not until I had to take my granddaughter to the doctor
that [the doctor] said, 'You will have to pay for her because she's not on your
Medicare card'. So I had to go back to Centrelink and they said, 'No, you have
to go to Medicare', which was such a pest. They do not tell you this.
I had to make four trips to Centrelink about different things and they
said, 'Well, you've got to fill in this form; you've got to fill in that form'.
Why is there not somebody there that can say, 'You need this form, this form
and this form', and take them all back. It would make life a whole lot easier.
Witnesses particularly described the problem in claiming benefits when
grandparents were not able to prove that they had the primary care of the
For example, Ms Annette Nicholson stated:
A lot of people do not get any help because they cannot
really prove that the kids are in their care. They might have children who are
not prepared to let the benefit from Centrelink go and so will not go in with
the grandparents and tell the truth: 'The kids are living with my parents, and
I'm not looking after them'.
By way of example, Mr David Killey narrated his experience in claiming
The five kids were living in a car and they turned up at our
place. I was at work and my wife said [to the parents], 'Just go away and leave
the kids here with us and we'll look after them.' Even then, to get the
benefits—the family tax benefit and whatever—[my wife] did an awful lot. We had
to prove that we were looking after those kids, even though [the Department for
Child Protection and Family Support] were not the guardians; [we] were the
guardians. My daughter wanted to keep the child payment and we said, 'No, you're
not entitled. We're looking after the children.' So [my wife] had to go down to
Centrelink. There was the amount of paperwork just to get the family benefit,
otherwise they were going to do whatever they do with it, and we had nothing.
Officers from the Department of Social Services and the Department
clarified that Centrelink accepts a wide range of evidence to prove the
existence of a care relationship. While a formal court order is not necessary,
one of the officers acknowledged:
I have been told a number of situations where the
grandparents are quite reluctant to make a claim because they do not want to
exacerbate whatever family tension exists...[I]t is inherently very difficult. I
have particularly heard in remote [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander]
contexts that grandparents are quite reluctant to talk to Centrelink and
disturb payment arrangements when there have been violence and threats made, so
we are very conscious that it is an issue.
Centrelink's customer service practices were also criticised (see
Chapter 4). Dr Jan Backhouse, for example, described a grandparent's typical
first contact with Centrelink:
[Y]our first port of call is going to be Centrelink. Then,
when you walk in, somebody tells you that you have to go and sit down and
either get on the computer—and most of the grandparents I know are not very
computer literate—or get on the phone. I have seen grandparents who are in
tears—they have been sitting in a Centrelink office on the phone for 1½ hours,
just crying and waiting to talk to somebody, or trying to get it sorted
out and being transferred from person to person.
Submitters generally supported making government processes and payments
more accessible to grandparents raising their grandchildren, by simplifying the
paperwork; increasing the number of grandparent advisors (see Chapter 4); and training
customer service staff to better understand and meet the needs of grandparents (see
For example, Dr Backhouse suggested:
Training [should] be supplied to all Centrelink/Family
Assistance officers to improve the service delivery to grandparents who are
raising their grandchildren in every area of Australia, rather than the [six]
Grandparent Advisers presently appointed in selected States.
Effect of complex family
relationships and personal considerations
In addition to issues relating to access, the committee heard that
complex family relationships often affect grandparents' choice whether to apply
for Commonwealth financial assistance. Dr Jenkins acknowledged that this issue:
...is a hard one to solve because, ultimately, the grandparent
is concerned about the wellbeing of the child and they are going to continue to
care for the child even in the absence of payments and benefits...But, obviously,
there is serious financial stress involved in that.
The Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) has previously suggested:
Given that barriers to applying for payments are thought to
come from complex family relationships, [perhaps] solutions need to come from
changing and simplifying the process of initial application for a range of
family-related payments for grandparents caring for their grandchildren, so as
to provide grandparents with payments in such a way that the conflict with
their children is avoided.
As well as reviewing application processes, submitters suggested
skilling the Centrelink-based grandparent advisors to assist grandparents
raising grandchildren in dealing with complex family relationships,
and the creation of a care-based payment. For example, Grandparents
Victoria and Kinship Care, Victoria proposed the creation of 'kinship carer
an idea similar to Wanslea's call for a National Carer Payment:
A model to identify and track children, and who has their
primary care would benefit both carers and children whose financial support
would not be compromised due to changing or conflictual family circumstances.
A carer payment better reflects the nature of the care relationship and
recognises and supports the role of grandparent carers in caring for their
Personal considerations also influence the decision whether to claim
financial assistance, such as: a sense of shame; a desire not to involve
authorities; and a desire to maintain privacy.
For example, in relation to informal care arrangements, Relationships Australia
explained 'some [grandparents] do not want to draw attention
to themselves by applying for social security benefits'.
Grandparents should not be expected to bear the full financial costs of
raising their grandchildren, particularly when governments would otherwise most
likely have to provide for the children through the foster care system. The committee
believes that financial assistance–in the form of existing foster care
payments–should be extended to grandparents who are raising their grandchildren
under informal care arrangements. Further, a review of the rates of financial
assistance paid to grandparents would be useful in aligning fortnightly payments
with the current costs of raising children. Together, these measures will help
to lift grandparent-headed families' standard of living above the poverty line.
The availability of financial assistance is a moot point for some
grandparents raising grandchildren, many of whom do not access certain
Commonwealth supports which the birth parent(s) continue to claim. The
committee recognises that this is a real issue for the grandparents who require
the financial support but who do not wish to jeopardise otherwise amicable
relationships with the parent(s).
The committee considers that this is an issue best dealt with by the
Australian Government, which provides the financial assistance and determines
the conditions under which it is offered. In particular, the application
process should require the identification of a primary carer, together with satisfactory
supporting evidence, to whom the financial support should be provided. The
committee recommends that the Australian Government should investigate means of
identifying kinship care arrangements in applications for Commonwealth benefits,
to better enable the provision of financial assistance to grandparents raising
A corollary to access to financial assistance is the knowledge that such
assistance is available. The committee acknowledges the identified need for
current and reliable information which advises grandparents raising
grandchildren of their potential entitlements. As proposed by the AHRC, there
should be a comprehensive national resource in relation to the government and
non-government financial assistance in each jurisdiction. This resource should
be made available across a range of mediums and in a variety of formats through
government departments and agencies, as well as community service providers.
Improved financial assistance for grandparents raising grandchildren
Overwhelmingly, submitters and witnesses indicated that Commonwealth,
state and territory governments need to improve the available financial
assistance. The committee heard many accounts of grandparents raising
grandchildren in desperate financial circumstances due not only to a lack of
financial support but also the payment amounts received from governments.
Costs of raising children
National Seniors submitted that the cost of raising children has
significantly increased in the past 10 years.
According to NATSEM, the cost of raising two children for a typical
middle-income family was $448,000 in 2002, $537,000 in 2007 and $812,000 in
NATSEM has reported also that 'the lower a family's income, the greater
proportion of it is taken up by the costs of a child'.
Figures published in 2013 show that raising older children is more expensive
than raising younger children (see Table 3.5 below).
Table 3.5–Estimated average costs of a single child per week, by age of
child and family income, December 2013
Gross income quintile
Age of child
Source: AMP.NATSEM Income and
Wealth Report, Cost of Kids, The cost of raising children in Australia, Issue
33, May 2013, p. 5.
Main income source for grandparents
Mr Michael Tugwell gave evidence that many grandparents raising
grandchildren are on the Age Pension, as compulsory superannuation was not
introduced in Australia until the grandparents had left the workforce.
The current payment rates of the Age Pension are set out in Table 3.6 below.
Table 3.6–Age Pension
Base pension rate per fortnight
Member of a Couple
Source: Centrelink, A
guide to Australian Government payments: 20 September-31 December 2014,
2014, p. 14.
Comparing the Age Pension and the estimated average weekly cost of
raising a child, National Seniors concluded that 'child care and caring for
oneself [has] become considerably difficult and unaffordable'.
The Aged-care Rights Service Inc. concurred:
[M]any of the carers are living close to or below the poverty
line and yet they are willing to become carers for their grandchildren if
necessity requires. Even if they receive allowances and benefits in relation to
their grandchildren it is unlikely to be sufficient and will need to be
supplemented by their own meagre income.
Dr Stephen Nicholson reinforced and illustrated this point:
A lot of us are on pensions—on fixed incomes—or are
self-funded retirees, and we do not have the funds to suddenly do this. You
usually organise your life into your retirement around the fact that it is
going to be just the two of you, and suddenly you have these kids. In our
situation, we got four of them, which is a huge burden...We recently had to take
one of them to the [ear nose throat] surgeon for a hearing problem. It cost us
$200 to see the [ear nose throat] surgeon, and we got $76 back from Medicare.
Ms Suzette Evans, a grandparent in receipt of a Disability Support
Pension, testified that her own financial challenges were reflected in the
NATSEM report, meaning:
I am forced, by limited financial means, taking into
consideration existing government subsidies, to spend almost 50 per cent less
raising my grandchildren today compared to what I was using to raise my own
children in the areas of health, transport, education and recreation.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld) Ltd. (ATSILS Qld)
also remarked on the average weekly cost of raising children for low income
families, citing NATSEM which reported the figure of $320 per week per child,
compared to the average government benefit of $274 per week (a net cost of $46
ATSILS Qld submitted:
Given that a majority of the grandparents we interviewed fell
within the low income group and are not in a position to add to their earnings
in any way, it is proposed that extended financial assistance be considered for
grandparents factoring in the costs of raising a child as well additional costs
associated with raising a child with special needs.
For self-funded retirees, Commonwealth financial assistance may not be
available due to the application of income and assets tests for various
payments. For example, Mrs Kaye Bendle, President of Grandparents
Rearing Grandchildren WA (Inc.) (GRG WA), stated:
If the grandparents are self-funded retirees or still in
the workforce, their income and assets are taken into consideration and they
may not be eligible for payments. There is no category for grandparents and no
recognition of grandparents' status or circumstances, [and] they are treated as
if they are the parents...Grandparents raising their grandchildren full time
should not have their income and assets means tested. Many grandparents fall
through the cracks in government policy and support.
Mrs Beverley Orr OAM from the Australian Foster Care Association concurred:
We have some grandparents at the moment—in fact, a lot—who
are already receiving some sort of Centrelink benefit. But it does not include
those who may still be in the workforce, whether full-time or part-time; nor
does it include self-funded retirees, who often fall in the gap between those
who are employed and the Centrelink-recipient grandparent carers.
Representatives from The Mirabel Foundation estimated that half of all
grandparents raising grandchildren are self-funded retirees,
meaning that there may be a significant number of grandparents who do not
qualify for Commonwealth financial assistance regardless of their legal status.
Mrs Wendy Roberts highlighted that not having access to Commonwealth
financial assistance can affect access to other supports and services–most
importantly, the Foster Child Health Care Card (see Chapter 4).
Ms Evans stated that this support should be available to all grandparents and
the grandchildren in their care.
The committee is concerned that there is disparity in the provision of
financial assistance to grandparents raising grandchildren and, for those who
do receive assistance, support payments do not necessarily cover the costs associated
with raising the children. It is not in the best interests of grandparent-headed
families to be under financial pressure such that there is a constant lack of
funds for day-to‑day living expenses, as well as the additional
costs of raising children with complex health needs or even for large and
Participants stated that the variable financial assistance provided to
grandparents raising grandchildren across Australia causes confusion and
frustration. A similar concern was identified in respect of non-financial
supports and services across government departments and agencies, as well as
community service providers. The committee heard that these systems need
to be simplified so that they are better understood by and more user-friendly
for the grandparents.
GRG WA, for example, submitted that the present system is too complex,
with different legislation, protocols, policies and procedures, and little
co-ordination between governments, departments and states.
Grandparents For Grandchildren SA Inc. argued that there should
be national policies and practices, including in relation to the judiciary and
children and young peoples' commissioners.
Particularly in the context of grandchildren's health, the Commissioner
for Children and Young People, Western Australia submitted:
Importantly a collaborative and coordinated approach should
be undertaken by services and agencies involved with the different parties to
ensure that complementary and effective strategies are employed. Case
management or other mechanisms to provide a central point for the grandcarer to
seek assistance, access information and coordinate care decisions as
appropriate could be considered.
The Commissioner for Children and Young People, Western Australia suggested
that improved coordination and collaboration between the jurisdictions and the
establishment of clear pathways to access supports and services could be
central considerations for future developments.
Ms Jenni Perkins, Acting Commissioner, considered that pathways should be
developed at federal, state and local levels,
an idea which resonated with Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the
There are pockets where there are some times local government
or local community projects which meet a lot of the things your inquiry is
considering...but it is very fragmented and piecemeal. One community is not
talking to the other and it is being done in a very ad hoc fashion.
Dr Backhouse suggested:
Australian state and federal governments must work together
to provide a full range of services, including financial and social support,
respite, advice and information, to all grandparents-as-parents, regardless of
whether the grandchildren have come into their care through a formal or
However, the Department for Child Protection and Family Services (WA) gave
evidence that federal/state government interactions primarily relate to
In evidence, a departmental representative noted that child protection
authorities 'come together in a series of subgroups to focus on a range of
joint concerns captured in the national framework'.
The committee notes the current Council of Australian Governments'
initiative implementing the National Framework for Protecting Australia's
Children 2009-2020 (Framework). The committee understands that the
Framework aims to ensure the safety and well‑being of Australia's
children and young people, including by supporting grandparents raising
It seems logical that this objective should include the establishment of
consistent and clear pathways to accessing that support.
The committee considers that co-ordination and collaboration between and
within jurisdictions is necessary to providing a seamless system of supports and
services. To the extent that this is not occurring, it should be addressed by
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