Non-financial challenges and supports
Grandparent carers face many practical challenges when they assume the
primary responsibility for raising their grandchildren. While financial
considerations arguably present the greatest challenge, there are also
non-financial matters which affect the grandparents and their ability to best
provide for their grandchildren.
In this chapter, the committee examines:
support and service needs of grandparents raising grandchildren;
Commonwealth, state and territory non-financial assistance; and
funding for community service providers.
Support and service needs of grandparents raising grandchildren
Kinship care literature reports that access to timely and appropriate
supports and services is critical to grandparents raising grandchildren.
Throughout the inquiry, participants informed the committee that these needs are
not being adequately met. In some cases, grandparents are choosing not to
access the supports and services (for example, due to a fear that they
will be perceived as incapable of caring for the children).
In other instances, the committee heard that grandparents are not aware of or
cannot access existing supports and services.
A number of specific supports and services were discussed in evidence
provided to the committee, including: staff in government departments and
agencies; training for the care role; access to and availability of respite;
education support and information; assessment of grandparents raising
grandchildren; and support groups.
Staff in government departments and
UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families identified a need for
grandparents raising grandchildren to have ongoing access to support from
caseworkers, according to the needs of the families concerned.
Research studies have highlighted that the type of caseworker is equally
What carers wanted from workers: maturity, experience,
understanding and respect; appreciation of a carer's situation/story;
understanding the carer's mixed emotions/divided loyalties with parents and
grandchildren; ability to involve extended family in decisions/planning; and an
understanding of drug/alcohol addiction.
Dr Bridget Jenkins described how many grandparents raising grandchildren:
...were a little bit miffed about the fact that the caseworkers
and the people they come into contact with at [the Department of Family and
Community Services (NSW)] are often young girls who are 50 or 40 years younger
than them and cannot really understand what it is like to raise a child and
raise a grandchild.
So many times, grandparents felt that they were being judged
and blamed for the birth parent's behaviours...Being disrespected by people 30,
40 or 50 years younger than you are is not good in any circumstance. We hear a
lot of grandparents saying: 'I don't want to enter the system. I know that
there is financial [and non-financial] support available and I know I can get
all these things, but I do not want [the Department of Family and Community
Services (NSW)] to monitor me and to know what I am doing'.
In Western Australia, the Department for Child Protection and Family
Services advised that the average age for its 860 caseworkers ranges from 28.5
to 31 years of age. A representative assured the committee that understanding
the circumstances of grandparents raising grandchildren 'is something that is
front and centre for our priorities in terms of our learning and development
At the federal level, an officer from the Department of Human Services (Department)
[W]hat we are doing...with the grandparent advisors is making
sure that we have in place people with experience to talk to the grandparents
in these situations as issues arise. Our grandparent advisors have the
experience and understanding to be able to link those people and help them
connect to the services we have.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) submitted that cultural
change is a crucial element of valuing unpaid care (such as grandparent
provided care), recommending:
That Commonwealth and state and territory front line staff
interacting with grandparent carers receive appropriate training so that services
to grandparent carers are provided with sensitivity to age and culture.
Women's Legal Services NSW agreed that there is a need for more cultural
sensitivity, with the appointment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander caseworkers
for matters involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families:
We hear anecdotally that in mainstream services rather than
allocating an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander caseworker to work directly
with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, there tend to be
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff appointed to advise the service
more generally about culturally appropriate practices.
Training for the care role
Some participants commented on the need for grandparents raising grandchildren
to receive training in contemporary parenting practices. The Child and Family
Welfare Agencies Association submitted, for example:
Grandparents may hold onto past techniques of parenting that
are not viewed as positive by today's standards. This may result in higher
levels of conflict within the household. Experience has shown that there are
few resources to assist grandparents [to] make the transition to different ways
National Seniors endorsed evidence-based training programs, such as the
Triple P–Positive Parenting Program, which was reported by the University of
...not only improve grandchildren's behaviour but also lower
experiences of depression, anxiety and stress and help to create better
While some grandparents raising grandchildren considered favourably training
in contemporary parenting practices,
Uniting Care Community argued that some grandparents fear parenting again as
they 'feel that they may have indeed failed the first time and do not want to
make the same mistakes'.
Further, currently available programs are not appropriately targeted to grandparents'
needs, for example:
We have a lot of single grandmothers on our program. Once
their grandsons get to teenage years, they also contact us to try and seek
mentors but those sorts of programs are few and far between.
Submitters and witnesses commented also on training for the assumption
of care responsibilities. Formal grandparents raising grandchildren are
provided with training in some jurisdictions but this training is not
necessarily mandatory. Participants argued that all grandparents should have
or be required to undertake, training which adequately prepares them for their
new care responsibilities. Wanslea Family Services Inc. (Wanslea), for example,
Often children come into the care of their grandparents for
serious issues of neglect, parental abandonment and child abuse. Therefore, the
children present with particular behavioural and developmental challenges and a
history of trauma that require particular parenting and/or therapeutic practices
A grandparent in Western Australia recounted his experience and agreed:
You are not equipped. One of the things you realise is, 'Hey,
we brought up three children when we were in our young 30s and so forth', but
bringing up a child who is a fairly high-need sort of child, with [attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder] and dyslexia and so forth, proved to be a big
challenge. We were not really equipped to do this. That is how I felt early on.
You do not have the skills.
UnitingCare Tasmania remarked that grandparents raising grandchildren 'cannot
be expected to respond therapeutically if they have not received robust
training in how to respond to such challenges'.
The training must also be delivered in a sensitive manner:
Grandparents need to (a) know that [the training] exists and
(b) know that they can pick up the phone and the person that they speak to is
not going to be judgemental, is going to work with them in a collaborative way
and is going to give them the respect that they deserve as people who know
these children and who know the issues that their family has experienced more
than any professional, any programmer or any worker does.
The Department of Health and Human Services, Tasmania argued that the
training provided to grandparents raising grandchildren should be identical, or
at least similar, to that provided to foster carers.
However, Winangay Resources contended that kinship carers' training needs are
unique due to unresolved grief, loss and intergenerational trauma:
Kinship carers' previous experience of trauma and mental
health issues can adversely affect the quality of care provided and has been
identified as a factor in placement breakdown..."Brave Faces, Hidden Tears"
a trauma informed training information/session was developed in response to
many kinship carer stories...The Brave Faces, Hidden Tears session has been
incorporated into the Strong People Strong Ways: Yarning and Sharing Sessions
which can be adapted to meet the needs of non-Aboriginal carers.
Access to and availability of
In the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Queensland,
informal grandparents raising grandchildren have access to respite.
In Tasmania and Victoria, the provision of such respite depends on the
capacity of community service providers. In Western Australia, the
Northern Territory and New South Wales, grandparents with the care of their
grandchildren under informal arrangements are not provided with respite.
Participants argued that all jurisdictions should offer unqualified
respite to informal grandparents raising grandchildren, as well as formal grandparents
raising grandchildren (who have variable entitlements to respite).
The Salvation Army, for example, submitted:
[One] significant area of need is for respite care to be
available for grandparents who care full time for their grandchildren. Many
grandparents experience their own fatigue, health concerns and social isolation,
and the consideration of this support is essential for many grandparents to be
able to continue to provide care for their grandchildren.
The committee heard also that existing respite services are inadequate
due to: not enough carers being available to meet the demand; and carers
sometimes not having enough training to provide quality care (including for
children with complex needs).
Mrs Anne McLeish, President of Grandparents Victoria and Kinship Care,
Victoria, advised that the provision of respite is 'very much a hit and miss
The issue of respite where the children go away from the
grandparents for a while is fraught and it is hardly available to
anyone—largely because the children can be quite difficult, particularly in the
first 2½ to three years before they settle down, and the number of people who
are willing to put up with that is diminishing. So it is a real pressure point.
Some submitters highlighted the particular need for respite in
sub-groups of the grandparents raising grandchildren population, including:
older grandparents; grandparents based in rural and remote areas; and
grandparents with multiple grandchildren in their care.
Dr Marilyn McHugh noted, for example:
All carers need a break from constant caring, but older, more
vulnerable kinship carers are at higher risk of placement instability, when
respite is unavailable. Without agency support for kinship placements,
carer need for respite is unrecognised and unmet.
National Seniors similarly submitted:
The need for [respite services] is critical for those
grandparent families who live remotely and who may not have friends or family
in close proximity and also during emergency situations.
In the absence of respite and minimal, if any, family support, Mission
Australia and The Mirabel Foundation highlighted the need for school holiday
programs, particularly over the long Christmas/New Year's break.
The Central Australian Women's Legal Service agreed that holiday
programs are much needed, as well as general programs and activities, for
children in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities:
Many grandparents expressed concern that their grandchildren
would 'get up to trouble' as they are unable to supervise them all of the time...Grandparents
encouraged the idea of a support group, a Youth centre or dedicated after
school/holiday programs...This would enable grandparents to enjoy some respite
and thus make for a more sustainable care arrangement[.]
Education support and information
Many participants called for grandparents raising grandchildren to
receive assistance in helping grandchildren with their educational needs. In
this regard, several submitters and witnesses identified challenges
attributable to generational issues (for example, modern curricula and
as well as information and communication technologies (ICT)).
One grandchild stated, for example:
Because our grandparents were taught a lot of different
things. Like I would ask for help in maths and they don't know half the stuff
I'm doing...Just having to deal with issues that go on in schools, it's a lot
different to back in their day.
In relation to ICT, the AHRC provided the following illustration of
grandparents' limited experience in online communications:
While internet usage is increasing for older people, less
than half of over 65s are online, with merely 37 per cent going online in
2010-11. That leaves a total of 1,790,000 Australians over 65 who are not
online. In comparison, in June 2010, young people aged 14 -17 years old
had the highest rate of internet use in Australia with 91 per cent spending
time online every week.
At public hearings, community service providers highlighted also the
challenges associated with the circumstances leading to the care arrangement,
where grandchildren may be behind in their schooling, underperforming or
have learning difficulties. The Mirabel Foundation explained:
Many of the children that we see have fallen behind in their
schooling while living with their parents. Unfortunately, they are not eligible
for in-school support, because their IQ is above 70 per cent. In Victoria they
need to be seen as below that or assessed as below that to be eligible. These
children have absolutely the potential to succeed at school but have fallen
behind and unfortunately there is no support available to them. So access to tutoring,
homework help and support for the grandparents as well to be able to assist the
grandchildren would enable the children to live up to their full educational
potential and obviously broaden their options for their future.
Mr Brett Fahey from Mission Australia described an initiative conducted
in partnership with The Smith Family through the Grandparents Raising
Grandchildren program: the 'homework club'. Mr Fahey indicated that this
initiative is achieving positive results:
One of the grandchildren actually asked his teacher whether
he could have extra homework so that he had an excuse to come on the two
afternoons instead of just coming to one. This was a child that was two years
behind in schooling, who had never read a book, let alone a chapter book, and
is now doing those things with the help of the homework club.
Grandparents Victoria and Kinship Carers Victoria referred to their
longstanding efforts with 'government authorities to structure cross-portfolio
agreements [to tackle the issue of under achievement]'.
Standard 4 of the National Standards for Out-of-home Care,
developed as a priority project for the National Framework for Protecting
Australia's Children 2009‑2020, provides that 'each child and young
person has an individualised plan that details their health, education and
Mrs McLeish stated:
We see that as the key to [success in] schools. Just the fact
that you sit down with your teachers and carers, and in some cases [with] the
child, and certainly the administration of the school, and have a conversation
about the specific needs of this child, then document them and turn that into a
plan is really important...The individual learning plan, if it operates well,
would be accompanied by regular meetings between all the stakeholders where
everybody shares the responsibility for the education of the child...We struggle...to
get the system to even highlight to the schools that this commitment exists.
Submitters suggested a range of other measures to assist grandchildren
with their education, including: access to computers;
funding the delivery of homework classes;
and education subsidies.
The AHRC proposed that programs (such as Broadband for Seniors) be linked to
support groups, to assist and encourage grandparent carers to use the internet.
Assessment of grandparents raising
Foster carers are generally required to undertake formal assessment
prior to the placement of children in their care. In contrast, grandparents
raising grandchildren are subject to a less rigorous assessment process, which
often occurs after commencement of a placement.
Dr McHugh expressed concern with such assessments, noting:
Placements where no assessment, or a minimal assessment, is
conducted on carer family appropriateness, presents a risk not only to
stability, but also to child safety...Because the majority of placements are
monitored infrequently, little is known about quality of care in some
placements. Risks to stability must surely arise for carers lacking
financial resources and appropriate information, and for whom support is not
provided, either initially or on an ongoing basis.
Mr Bernie Geary from the Victorian Commission for Children and Young
People emphasised the need for high quality assessment of kinship care
placements, as well as support and supervision, to ensure the best
outcomes for children and their families.
Several participants–such as CREATE Foundation–contended that, in some
instances, kinship care is not the most suitable form of placement for children
and young people.
Mr Geary concurred:
Kinship care placements frequently commence at a time of
crisis and a relative can seem to be a safe and familiar option for a child...Highly
skilled assessment is required to ensure that the best option for the child is
identified, not just the quickest or the most convenient.
Representatives from the Australian Association of Social Workers
confirmed the need for skilled assessment which engages the grandparents, as
'you are going to have to talk about things that grandparents are not
necessarily going to want to talk about'.
Two assessment options identified by participants included:
comprehensive assessment identical to that required of foster carers (although
this would entail delays in grandparent care placements);
and development of care plans subsequent to grandparent care placements (as is
occurring in Victoria).
Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard evidence regarding the need
for better resourcing of support groups for grandparents raising grandchildren.
Grandparents Rearing Grandchildren WA (Inc.) explained the multiple reasons why
grandparents have found the groups 'invaluable':
They give a wealth of information and personal support.
Grandparents feel safe, relaxed and can gain confidence in raising their
grandchildren. Many of these grandchildren can often be extreme, violent
and exhausting all in one day. The support group can help grandparents with
skills to better cope, [and] regain their social and emotional well-being.
Grandparents come to rely on grandparent support groups for friendship,
advice, [the] understanding that each member can offer and the group keeps the
grandparent "going" and keeps their "sanity".
Participants referred to the social isolation experienced by grandparents
when their care responsibilities clash with their pre-existing social networks
In this context, submitters emphasised the value of support groups as a source
of friendship. Wanslea, for example, submitted:
The friendships and connections grandparent carers make at
Wanslea's support groups do contribute to alleviating [social isolation], and
they often will interact socially beyond the group setting. This broader social
interaction gives grandparent carers a sense of belonging and community. It contributes
to 'normalising' their complex circumstances and they nurture one another
through whatever difficulties they choose to disclose.
However, submitters and witnesses indicated that non-ongoing and limited
funding is jeopardising the continued operation of existing support groups, as
well as the supports and services that are available to group members. Further,
there is a lack of suitable support groups for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander grandparents raising grandchildren.
At the Melbourne public hearing, Mr Andrew Jackomos, Commissioner for
Aboriginal Children and Young People, advised that mainstream service
...would not be the first place that a Koori carer would go
[for support]. It would be their local Aboriginal organisation [as] Koori
carers do not have access to a Victorian Aboriginal peak body[.]
In Western Australia, Wanslea advised that it is strongly committed to
increasing its outreach to regional areas, particularly for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander grandparents, by assisting local agencies to address
As a result of our engagement efforts in Narrogin, for
example, we have managed to instigate an associate grandcare group in that
town, with a group comprising 15 Indigenous grandfamilies at the moment. This
group is coordinated by a local Indigenous support agency, named [Kaata-Koorliny
Employment and Enterprise Development Aboriginal Corporation]. Distance factors
[prevent] Wanslea facilitating this group, but we also believe that they are
better served by having a local culturally appropriate facilitator. That seems
to be working fairly well...Wanslea would like to expand this service to other
regional areas as we see this...as the tip of the iceberg but are faced with
budgetary and resourcing challenges which make such expansion not possible.
In New South Wales, Mission Australia provides a program for
grandparents with the primary care for raising Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander grandchildren, however, 'that program may cease...due to changes in
Commonwealth government funding'.
Also in New South Wales, the Grandparent and Kinship Carers Association
Inc., Mid North Coast New South Wales, which covers a geographical area of
approximately 200 kilometres, informed the committee that 'it is a job to keep
this group going':
We are reliant upon doing barbecues at Bunnings to finance
us, to pay the insurance and the other ongoing costs...The big problem with all
of the groups like ours is to be able to survive. They come and go at quite a
rapid rate because we are all stressed out; we are tired; and there is the
financial cost of just getting to meetings.
Ms Emma White from the Department for Child Protection and Family
Services (WA) observed that there is a continuum of support groups, where some
groups 'need input from a range of services and community supports to support
them in delivering that care'.
Submitters stated that governments should continue to establish and
extend grandparents raising grandchildren support groups, with the provision of
including funding for follow up services,
social activities and regular camps.
The committee acknowledges that state and territory governments are
largely responsible for the provision of non-financial supports and services to
grandparents raising grandchildren. Bearing this in mind, the committee makes
the following comments with respect to the evidence received regarding unmet
Staff in government departments and
The committee recognises that some grandparents raising grandchildren are
not comfortable when interacting with government departments and agencies. For
this reason, it is important that customer service staff receive education and
training on the special circumstances and needs of grandparents, as well as the
supports and services which are available within each jurisdiction or where to
go for such information.
The committee heard evidence indicating that some departments are
conscious of these issues and are taking, or have taken, steps to provide more
informed and sensitive services to grandparents raising grandchildren.
However, grandparents across the country argued there are still problems,
and the committee is persuaded that a consistent and systemic change is
Training for the care role
If grandparents raising grandchildren would like to refresh their
parenting knowledge and skills, as the evidence suggests, then the committee supports
grandparents having access to the appropriate courses, particularly where this
will enhance family relationships. The desire, or need, to attend parenting
courses should not be construed as a failure on anyone's part but as a positive
and proactive acknowledgement of the potential familial benefit.
The committee believes that training should be made available to all
grandparents raising grandchildren on an 'as needed' basis. In this regard,
the committee notes the significant potential for grandparents to require
training in relation to the complex needs of children in their care. The
committee considers that discrete subject areas should be identified for the
development of training modules which are specifically targeted toward the
needs of grandparent-headed families.
Access to and availability of
The committee accepts that respite is a fundamental support for
grandparents raising grandchildren, to promote health and wellbeing (by
providing time out and an opportunity to attend to personal needs), and to
help ensure placement stability. However, the provision of respite is variable
and, according to the evidence received, there is not enough respite available
to those who need it (particularly grandparents in rural and remote areas or
with negligible family support). The committee urges governments to consider
extending and enhancing respite services for all grandparents raising
Education support and information
It is difficult to understate the importance of education and it is
highly commendable that grandparents wish to do more to ensure that their
grandchildren receive an education which sets them up for life. The committee
heard evidence regarding local, state and federal initiatives that similarly
recognise and support this objective.
The committee endorses Standard 4 of the National Standards for Out‑of‑home
Care, which provides for each child and young person to have an individualised
education plan. The committee considers that this national priority will advance
each child's education outcomes. Noting the concern expressed by some
participants regarding implementation of the new standard, the committee
suggests that governments collaboratively develop guidelines, protocols and
templates for use within each jurisdiction.
Further, there is significant merit in equipping children with the
necessary tools and supports to achieve their full educational potential.
Whether this be through the direct provision of equipment or the funding of
supports and services, consideration should be directed toward improving the
educational outcomes of children in grandparent provided care by whatever means
Assessment of grandparents raising
The safety of children in out-of-home care arrangements must always be
paramount. The committee recognises that there is not enough information
available regarding grandparent-headed families, to assess the proportion of
households where child safety is a live issue. The committee considers that
this is one of the many areas which would benefit from further research.
However, in the interim and primarily as a means of determining the suitability
of a placement, as well as necessary supports and services, the committee
believes that some form of assessment should take place within six months of
the commencement of a placement.
The commitment of support groups to improving the circumstances of
grandparents raising grandchildren was evident in their high level of
involvement with the inquiry. Numerous other participants spoke well of various
groups, acknowledging the benefits provided to grandparents at a most difficult
time in the grandparents' lives.
While specific groups participated in, or were mentioned during, the
inquiry, the committee recognises that there are many supports groups
throughout Australia, quietly and diligently assisting grandparents raising
their grandchildren. The committee acknowledges and commends the
altruistic efforts of all support groups, and encourages them in their
Against this backdrop, it was encouraging to hear of the funding
provided by governments in support of the groups. It was likewise discouraging
to hear of funding uncertainties and the potential impact of budget cuts on
support groups. The committee considers that it would be extremely
unfortunate for these groups to cease or limit their activities: there is merit
in considering funding options to facilitate the establishment, maintenance and
operations of peer support groups which provide invaluable assistance to
grandparents raising grandchildren.
Commonwealth, state and territory non-financial assistance
The Commonwealth, state and territory governments provide non‑financial
assistance to some grandparents raising grandchildren. The type and extent of
this assistance depends on a range of factors, including: the grandparents'
geographic location; the type of care arrangement (formal/informal); and
characteristics of the placement.
The Commonwealth provides non-financial assistance to grandparents through
the Foster Child Health Care Card, the MyTime for Grandparents initiative and with
the provision of Centrelink-based grandparent advisors in some states. These supports
and services are available to grandparents regardless of the legal status of
the care arrangement (formal/informal).
The Foster Child Health Care Card enables card holders to access cheaper
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medications for children in care, as well as
other concessions offered by state and territory organisations. The card is
issued to the grandparent but only the child is named on and covered by the
MyTime for Grandparents is a national network of peer support groups for
kinship carers with the full‑time care of children aged up to 18 years.
The groups aim to reduce carers' social isolation, increase carers' knowledge
about available payments, services and resources, and improve family
functioning and wellbeing. According to the Department of Social Services, there
are 25 peer support groups across Australia.
The Department of Human Services (Department) advises that there are six
grandparent advisors across Australia, with two advisors based in New South
Wales, one in Victoria (covering Tasmania), one in Queensland, one in Western
Australia (covering the Northern Territory) and one in South Australia.
The role of the grandparent advisers is to assist grandparents raising
understanding family circumstances, to provide tailored
information about payments and services;
arranging appointments with Centrelink's specialist staff (such
as social workers); and
arranging referrals to other federal, state and community service
The responsibilities of the grandparent advisors also include, for
example: collaborating with other government and non-government agencies (to
achieve optimum outcomes for grandparent carers); raising the awareness, skills
and competency of departmental customer service employees; and identifying
trends and developing proactive strategies to assist the grandparents.
Each grandparent advisor reports monthly on the number of inquiries
received from an 1800 telephone service (approximately 30-40).
A departmental officer explained that this data focusses on 'the delivery and
co-ordination of a service', rather than providing qualitative data, such
as access issues experienced by grandparents using the Centrelink service.
In relation to policy development, the grandparent advisors meet
regularly to discuss issues affecting grandparents raising grandchildren.
Policy proposals are then forwarded to various program counterparts within the
Department for decision‑making at a higher level.
The Department provided two examples of policy proposals received from the
community which have been actioned (relating to the Foster Child Health Care
Card form and claims for child support).
Specific issues relating to the Grandparent
Submitters and witnesses commented particularly on the grandparent
advisers, generally praising the advisors for their assistance to grandparents
raising grandchildren in navigating Centrelink systems.
Ms Geraldine Burke described her experience with the Victorian advisor:
It was just the whole muddle of Centrelink and what you were
able to receive through them and to help you through those forms that you
cannot deal with due to your emotional state. You just cannot deal with it.
They actually helped do that and sent out things that were partially
filled in. You just needed to fill out the rest of the thing and sign them and
take them in rather than going to wait in a queue for hours, being given a
form, and then queuing again for hours—which you cannot do when you have a child
that has all of a sudden come into your care.
Grandparents Victoria and Kinship Care, Victoria informed the committee
that assistance with the paperwork was an unexpected benefit: 'what we wanted
out of the advisors was consistent and correct information, and we have
certainly got that'.
At the Perth public hearing, the committee heard from the Perth and
Adelaide‑based grandparent advisors, who gave evidence regarding their further
role in progressing claims lodged by grandparents:
one advisor described directing claims to the relevant processing
centres for prompt attention (particularly for claims involving hardship);
the other advised that she 'case manages' the file until the
claim is granted (potentially four to six weeks):
I monitor to make sure that at each stage the claim has been
granted. I keep in close touch with the relevant processing team. When all the
claims have been granted and all the payments run out, then I let the
grandparent know that everything that they could access from Centrelink has
been successful and that their payments are up and running.
In addition to these positive comments, participants described shortcomings
in grandparents raising grandchildren's experiences with Centrelink and the Grandparent
Advisor Program. Concerns were expressed with regard to, for example, the
manner in which Centrelink interacts with grandparents and the high demand for
assistance from the advisors.
Manner in which Centrelink interacts
with grandparents raising grandchildren
Participants argued that grandparents raising grandchildren prefer to
deal with a person when interacting with Centrelink. Dr Bridget Jenkins stated,
[Grandparents] prefer to speak to someone rather than read
information on the internet. Although this is not face to face for most
grandparents, who will not be able to [travel to a grandparent advisor],
certainly having someone to speak to over the phone, having that relationship
with someone, is really positive.
The Grandparent and Kinship Carers Association Inc., Mid North Coast New
South Wales agreed that grandparents have an aversion to electronic
We are all nearly elderly people and we have to deal with
modern technology, which we were not brought up with...In dealing with government
services, we deal with Centrelink, which is now going to, primarily, an online
organisation; Medicare is doing the same; and on and on it goes, with most
A representative from COTA Australia suggested that online processing
and phone servicing may be limiting grandparents' access to entitlements:
The colocation of Centrelink and Medicare has exacerbated the
problem in terms of waiting times and people feeling alienated from an office.
Often you are directed to sit at a computer and do your processing, not
with a person. Some of that model of service delivery for Centrelink really
does work against people who are not familiar with the system and are
uncomfortable with it. If they have language difficulties, if they come from a
non-English speaking background or they have cultural differences, all of that
needs to be taken into account[.]
Mrs Elizabeth Burton outlined her overall frustration dealing with
One of the biggest and most frustrating issues for me has
been dealing with Centrelink...On one visit to Centrelink, the temperature was 40
degrees Celsius, the queue inside for checking in was approximately 20 to 30
people long and even extended outside into the heat at times. There were also
approximately–I counted–100 people seated inside waiting up to 2½ hours for
their appointment. There were small children running around, babies crying in
prams plus many elderly patiently awaiting their turn, and I dread having to go
through this each time I have to deal with Centrelink.
According to the Department's evidence, the grandparent advisors
endeavour to assist grandparents raising grandchildren who cannot attend the
local Centrelink office (by conducting home visits, if practical, and
outreach services), as well as helping with online claims.
High demand for assistance from
COTA Australia noted that two grandparent advisors have responsibility
for providing services in more than one jurisdiction. However, in all
jurisdictions, COTA Australia argued that there are not enough advisors,
resulting in a diminished service to grandparents raisin grandchildren:
When the adviser positions were announced, they were going to
provide one on one support to grandparents who needed it. Obviously, with only
six positions nationally, this is not provided to the majority on a face to
face basis and is usually via a telephone conversation...There are sometimes long
waiting times to speak with an advisor; as much as two to three weeks for a
detailed discussion...People also reported feeling rushed and not having enough
time with the adviser to go through all the issues they needed to address.
Grandparent advisers have heavy workloads and often have other responsibilities
COTA Australia contended that the number of grandparent advisors should
be increased, to ensure timely access and to allow for the provision of 'in
The Department of Social Services acknowledged previous feedback from
the community on this issue, leading to recent discussions with the Department
regarding 'the level of demand placed on those grandparent advisers [and]
whether the current number meets the demand'. However, 'the Department has not
made any systemic changes to accommodate increasing demand for grandparent
In evidence, a representative stated:
[T]here seem to be sufficient grandparent advisers to meet
the demand. I think it is back to that face-to-face issue...People think [the
advisors] are a really good service and they get them on the phone but they
then want to sit down and talk through their documents and that quite often is
not possible. I would say that has been an area of focus and interest for
us...[W]e are conscious of...the desire and interest in a greater face-to-face
presence of the advisers ...That is an issue that has been raised with us
The committee commends the Grandparent Advisor Program administered by
the Department, and the individual efforts of the grandparent advisors.
Most participants spoke very highly of the advisors, with concerns
expressed in relation to the program and Centrelink's general capacity to
facilitate face-to-face dealings with grandparents raising grandchildren.
The committee acknowledges grandparents' preference for people-based
interactions, due to variable information technology knowledge and skills, as
well as the personal and traumatic circumstances in which grandparents interact
with the system. In addition, the committee recognises the need for grandparents
to fully engage with Centrelink through the advisors, to access all supports
and services to which the grandparents might be entitled. Clearly, if there are
more advisors available, then they will have more time for each client.
Noting that the grandparent advisors are responsible for 14 Service
Zones (rather than jurisdictions),
the committee considers that the Department should review its Grandparent
Advisor Program, with a view to ensuring that need is being met in high-demand
service areas and, if required, increasing the number of grandparent advisors
employed under the Grandparent Advisor Program.
State and territory non-financial
Most non-financial government assistance for grandparents raising
grandchildren is provided by the states and territories. There are four primary
forms of non-financial supports and services, with variable provision to
grandparents across Australia:
all jurisdictions offer case management to formal carers, but the
Northern Territory only offers case management to informal carers;
most jurisdictions offer non-mandatory training to formal carers,
but the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia only provide access to
training for informal carers, dependent on service providers;
some jurisdictions offer respite to formal carers, with New South
Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory offering respite if it is
articulated in individual case plans. The Australian Capital Territory,
Queensland and South Australia provide respite to informal carers, with respite
in Tasmania and Victoria dependent on the presence and capacity of service
most jurisdictions have a foster care peak body that provides
advocacy for formal carers, with peak kinship care bodies providing advocacy in
other jurisdictions (including for informal carers).
Social researchers Dr McHugh and Dr kylie valentine have noted that most
jurisdictions provide information to grandparents raising grandchildren on
other supports and services, including: support groups; government liaison
officers; telephone helplines; and printed resources.
For example, the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability
Services (Qld) provides online resources, brochures and fact sheets (such as
Carer Fact Sheet 3: Providing Foster and Kinship Care, Support for carers).
Submitters and witnesses noted the variation in non-financial assistance
offered to grandparents by state and territory governments.
For many, there was an inequitable contrast with other out-of-home carers,
leading participants to call for parity with foster carers in the provision of
supports and services.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld) Ltd.
(ATSILS Qld) argued that these supports and services should be available
to grandparents raising grandchildren on commencement of the care arrangement
(due to the potential need to assist grandchildren with complex health needs).
The Australian Medical Association added:
[A] stocktake of services available to both grandparents and
foster parents in each State and Territory should be undertaken in order to
identify any significant inconsistencies across the jurisdictions, as well as
gaps in services, that aim to support children whose parents are not their
primary care givers.
Consistent with earlier comments, the committee questions the
rationale for distinguishing between foster carers and kinship
carers–especially informal grandparents raising grandchildren who are the
majority of grandparent carers–in the provision of non‑financial
assistance. This distinction might be based on a more traditional view of the
role of family or be attributable to cost considerations. However, the question
of supports and services for grandparents is essentially an issue of what
supports and services are to be provided to the family unit, which is often
significantly disadvantaged. In this context, it is fundamental that
governments consider implementing a range of measures to support grandparent-headed
Funding for community service providers
Community service providers operate alongside government departments and
agencies to provide supports and services to grandparents raising grandchildren,
which are funded through non-recurrent grants (via a tender process) and other
funding programs (such as the Communities for Children initiative
administered by the Department of Social Services). Evidence presented to the
inquiry indicated that some of these existing supports and services may be threatened
by funding uncertainties. Examples drawn from New South Wales, Western
Australia and Tasmania appear below.
In New South Wales, Mission Australia advised that its $150,000 per
annum Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program, partially funded by the
Commonwealth through Communities for Children Direct, closed for tenders on 21
In Western Australia, Wanslea provides the Grandcare Program to informal
grandparents raising grandchildren in 10 southern locations (for example:
Perth, Albany and Narrogin): 'we have 507 grandcarers and 667 grandchildren
registered with the Grandcare program. Of those 507 grandcarers...94 are within
Wanslea emphasised that government services are not accessible, or
desirable, to all grandparents:
It is essential that funding be made available for current
support group services to continue their services, but also gaps in service
delivery identified and services established or expanded where necessary. As not
all grandparent carers are involved with state based child protection services
– and some fear such involvement due to the nature of their family
relationships – it is recommended that this service be provided through the
not-for-profit community sector.
UnitingCare Tasmania provides the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
program in the southern and north-western regions of Tasmania. This program was
initially funded by the Commonwealth, then by the Tasmanian Government from 2011-2012:
...however, the [state] funding was non-recurrent, and at the
conclusion of the funding, [the program] has seen a reduction in capacity...leaving
grandparenting families in the northern region unsupported.
UnitingCare Tasmania contended that there is a critical need for the
provision of ongoing funding to support the multiple and complex needs of
grandparents raising grandchildren, which are not being met by current support
Grandparents are able to access initial support in some
circumstances via the Tasmania Gateway Referral Service [Gateway Services], but
this is short term, and doesn't offer the specialist support required to
navigate the complex needs of grandparent families.
The Department of Health and Human Services, Tasmania acknowledged that
the Gateway Services offer 'brief and short intervention' (including provision
of information and financial assistance to cover the cost of essential items),
which could be extended to cover the duration of the care arrangement:
It would be good if there was an organisation that wrapped
support services around grandparents on a 'needs basis' over the time that the
grandparents are raising their grandchildren. Tasmania's Gateway service only
provides an initial (15 hour) support when a grandchild starts living with
their grandparents (within the first three months), and this is not available
to grandparents who are caring for grandchildren under orders. Support needs to
be present as children develop, this shouldn't stop at a point in time, or not
be applicable to some grandparents.
North West Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Tasmania endorsed the need
for long-term assistance, preferably from a dedicated agency where grandparents
raising grandchildren can build rapport with support workers.
As noted earlier in this report and in addition to these concerns, the
committee heard that there is disparity in the funding provided to foster care
and kinship care peak bodies. In Victoria, Mr Geary referenced a ratio of 8:1:
Clearly this level of funding for [kinship carers] cannot
begin to meet the existing and impending growing need. We are happy to make it
a growth industry, but we are also not funding it. This is despite how...the
majority of carers are kinship carers and the trend and rapid growth is
obvious. Foster care is a shrinking type of care. The equation is surely
Community service providers play an important role in the delivery of supports
and services to grandparents raising grandchildren. As noted by Wanslea, grandparents
would not necessarily be able, or choose, to access these direct from the
government, and it would be impossible to predict when or for how long services
are required. For those reasons, the committee agrees with the Department of
Health and Human Services, Tasmania that support should be provided on a needs
basis to all grandparent carers.
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