The emotions are as diverse as Lego pieces. Grief for the life you have lost. Guilt for feeling that way. Anger. Love.
Jacqui Phillips is the Palmerston North Support Group co-ordinator for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (GRG).
She started the support group four and a half years ago and has been a grandparent raising a grandchild herself.
The group has 190 member families.
GRG is for any whānau raising children who are not their own, eg aunts, siblings, people who are not blood relatives, Phillips says.
One member is 83 and bringing up a great-grandchild.
Phillips says the majority of children come into the care of family members other than a parent because of a parent’s drug addiction, particularly methamphetamine.
Other reasons include an alcoholic parent or a parent who is mentally or physically unwell.
Each week, Phillips receives phone calls from people asking for advice and help. This could be where to get counselling for the child. Many have mental health or behavioural issues because of the trauma they have experienced.
They are also going through loss and grief from not being with their parent(s).
There are also material needs to be met as children often arrive with just what they are wearing and need clothing, bedding, and school items.
Phillips is asked about schools and supervised access organisations. She lets carers know they could be entitled to more than the Unsupported Child’s Benefit from Work and Income.
She goes with people to Work and Income and Oranga Tamariki as an advocate and supporter.
Before a child arrives in a family member’s care they might have already been through the stress and cost of Family Court processes to ensure the child’s safety, Phillips says.
It is a voluntary role in which she can spend 15-20 hours a week. She also runs an engineering business with her husband, and works part-time for the Personal Advocacy and Safeguarding Adults Trust providing advocacy and supported decision-making for people with an intellectual disability.
Phillips organises a speaker for the monthly GRG support group meetings on topics such as social services, counselling, foodbanks and fire safety.
The meetings are about educating oneself and connecting with others who understand without judgment. She encourages members to share their wins and losses. There were 53 people at last week’s support group meeting.
This year, Phillips has set up a steering committee to assist her and for people to learn the ropes of running the group.
She set it up after joining GRG and discovering there wasn’t a Palmerston North group.
Everyone who takes on the role of raising someone else’s child wants to give them a normal life with the opportunity to succeed like every other child, she says.
The carer can experience the complete loss of their own life. They might have got to the point where their children are grown up and can spontaneously attend events and develop new hobbies.
Phillips says a lot of members mourn the loss of their social circle, the loss of friends as their lifestyle no longer fits with yours.
But then they feel guilty they think like that. They resent the change in circumstances not the child.
There could be anger towards the child’s parent(s) for letting the child down and putting the carer in that position. A parent could be raging you have “stolen” their child when the Family Court has made the decision.
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren is the recipient of this year’s Manawatū Guardian Christmas appeal. Unwrapped donations of books, clothing, toiletries and activities for grandchildren can be left at 619 Main St between 10am and 1pm. Alternatively, ring Judith on 027 218 1583 for collection.
- To join the free support group ring 0800 472 637.