Burden on grandparents raising children: 'I had to leave my job'

By Sarah Harris

Terry Kopu has raised her great grandson Kuldeep Singh since he was six weeks old, he is now 9. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Terry Kopu has raised her great grandson Kuldeep Singh since he was six weeks old, he is now 9. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Terry Kopu has taken care of her great grandson since he was lifted from a home of drinking, violence and neglect when he was six weeks old.

Her story is similar to the majority of the 1350 grandparents surveyed by charitable trust Grandparents Raising Grandchildren who released a report today. Drug addiction, domestic violence, family breakdown, neglect, struggling parents and alcohol abuse are the most common reasons children end up in their grandparent's care.

Kuldeep Singh, now 9, was removed from Kopu's granddaughter by Child Youth and Family. The girl was only 16 when she gave birth to Kuldeep.

Kopu, 66, recalls that as one of the hardest times of her life, and it hasn't gotten that much easier although she loves Kuldeep very much.

Kopu didn't know what was going on until she got a call while she was working in administration at the Manukau City Council to pick up the baby.

She drove down to Tauranga, picked Kuldeep up from a foster home and drove back the same day.

Kuldeep came with no belongings and she had to quit her job to take care of him. Suddenly having her wages cut off while buying everything a baby needs was tough Kopu said.

On the benefit she got $300 a week from 2007 to 2014, now she's on the pension she gets $366 a week including her accommodation supplement.

"I had to write a resignation to my job that I will be leaving effective immediately. There was no time to give notice as I had the baby with me.

"That was my period of really struggling financially.

"The thing that upset me the most was CYFs didn't support me in any way."

Now he's a bit older Kuldeep has asked why his parents gave him away.

"I explain 'they didn't give you away, just their lifestyle wasn't good for you at the time'. It's heart breaking when he talks like that."

Kopu wishes Kuldeep had someone to run around with, she can't keep up anymore.

"The hardest thing is that I'm not able to be a part of playing sports with him. He's very active."

Kuldeep's father has been in contact with him for the first time this year, which is positive Kopu said.

Researcher Liz Gordon said the grandparents and great-grandparents get huge love and joy from their grandchildren, but the costs are great.

The children are not easy children, there are often P babies, fetal alcohol babies, the victims of physical and sexual abuse, post-traumatic stress and other issues Gordon said.

"Unless they are reasonably well-off and have one, two or more spare bedrooms, the arrival of the grandchildren has immediate impacts on the family - not enough resources, not enough space. Some grandparents find themselves sleeping on their couch."

The families vary greatly in ages from 35 to over 85. The report found most of the families are worse off financially as they drop work to take care of the child. Two-thirds of the families were on or below the poverty line and 74 per cent suffered from health issues, Gordon said.

"The grandparents often face ongoing sacrifices to deal with the health and education needs of the children, all the time their own health may be getting worse, their retirement savings disappear and they have to give up work, change jobs or reduce hours to meet the needs of the children."

CYFs has been very involved with many of these children, Gordon said, but grandparents have many criticisms of the organisation. Usually for urging the families to get custody, then closing the case and leaving very needy children without support.

- NZ Herald

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