Methamphetamine is tearing Bay of Plenty families apart - and it's grandparents who are picking up the pieces.
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The latest figures from Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (GRG), a New Zealand charitable trust, show more than 900 Bay of Plenty grandparents are raising more than 1700 grandchildren who no longer live with a parent. Nationally the figure sits at almost 10,000 grandparents raising more than 17,000 grandchildren.
Year-on-year the number of families joining GRG increases but one thing stays the same. The main reason grandparents are being left to raise their grandchildren is drugs. And the most common drug is methamphetamine, and Oranga Tamariki is backing that up.
GRG chief executive Kate Bundle said a 2017 survey conducted by the trust and involving 492 of the 4000 members, showed 72 per cent of grandparents cited drug use as the main reason they were looking after their grandchildren.
"And of those 72 per cent, 86 per cent said methamphetamine was the main drug involved," Bundle said.
"Cannabis involvement was also an answer from 81 per cent."
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren has Bay of Plenty co-ordinators based in Pāpāmoa, Te Puke, Rotorua, Taupō, Ōpōtiki and Katikati.
The organisation has seen a steep increase in membership and some of its members face major challenges.
The organisation cites examples of a 92-year-old who had the care of three grandchildren and a grandmother who has recently taken over the care of two of her grandchildren who is now trying to sell her retirement village home.
Bundle said the region was one of the areas identified as having high parental drug addiction involving methamphetamine use which contributed to grandparents raising their grandchildren.
She also described methamphetamine as a problem society as a whole was facing.
"Grandparents, extended family, caregivers and teachers are struggling to deal with the difficulties that are often present when looking after the child of a meth user.
"There is a lot of aggression, there can be learning difficulties and a lot of acting out. And although the child becomes older in a safe environment, that does not necessarily mean they become well."
Bundle said GRG had become more widely accepted and acknowledged. Recently the organisation was seeing more referrals from other organisations – Oranga Tamariki in particular.
"They've now introduced caregiver social workers to help support the caregiver relationship with the child and we are seeing a lot of these caregivers through GRG."
Oranga Tamariki's acting deputy chief executive of care services, Paula Attrill, said drug and alcohol concerns were significant factors underpinning custody entires. "We believe this is partly due to the increased use of methamphetamine."
She said the availability of different types of caregivers varied across regions and depended on factors such as which partnerships the service had in place.
"The majority of children in our care are being cared for by members of their wider family. In most cases, this is the best outcome for children who are unable to be cared for by their parents.
"We have a responsibility to preference the placement children with members of their wider whānau, hapū, iwi or family group who are able to meet their needs."
Attrill said Oranga Tamariki's Caregiver Recruitment and Support service was focused on supporting all caregivers so they were in the best possible position to provide safe, loving and stable homes for the children in their care.
"We recognise their situation is often complex and that they need a support plan that is tailored to their specific needs."
She said while Oranga Tamariki did not keep specific data about the ages of whānau caregivers, anecdotally they were seeing more of that.
She said they worked proactively with other organisations to find safe, stable and loving homes for children.
"No one agency alone is likely to meet all of their support needs.
"Everyone needs to work together to ensure the support is available, timely and meets the unique needs of each family and the children in their care.
Bay of Plenty GRG volunteer co-ordinators have reported a steep increase in membership but believe each region comes with its own unique challenges.
In spite of this, each of the three co-ordinators who spoke to the Rotorua Daily Post confirmed methamphetamine was the biggest contributor to parents being unable to raise their children.
Rotorua co-ordinator Anne Donnell said she had about 150 members and described the group as one of the more progressive.
"We have grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents raising children," Donnell said.
"I think our eldest is a woman in her 80s."
Donnell described the number of family members bringing up children as the tip of the iceberg.
Sophie Kahika, the Ōpōtiki/Whakatāne/Kawerau volunteer co-ordinator, said the Eastern Bay, in particular Ōpōtiki, was in need of more grandparents.
"We have a situation where some grandparents, or great-grandparents, aren't deemed suitable by Oranga Tamariki, perhaps because of past misdemeanours, so we have to look further afield within the extended whānau to find someone who is," Kahika said.
She said she was working with extended family members to get them "Oranga Tamariki qualified" so they could care for youngsters who had been taken from their parents.
Kahika said she had a 92-year-old GRG member who had the care of three grandchildren.
Pāpāmoa/Te Puke volunteer co-ordinator Rawinia McCredie said a grandmother who had recently taken over the care of two of her grandchildren was now trying to sell her retirement village home.
"She had bought a place in one of the villages but the rules meant her two grandchildren could not live there with her," McCredie said.
"She is now renting a home to accommodate her grandchildren and I can almost guarantee the money she raises from the sale of her home will be used to help raise those youngsters."
The police were asked if police were more frequently calling in other agencies when dealing with the possession/manufacture of methamphetamine because children are present. They were also asked if domestic violence was continuing to increase because of methamphetamine.
In response Fiona Roberts, the national manager of family harm for the New Zealand Police, said anecdotally, police knew drug and alcohol concerns were significant factors underpinning custody entries.
"We believe this is partly due to the increased use of methamphetamine."
She said the police worked closely with key partner agencies to ensure the safety and wellbeing of any child found living with the impacts of crime.
"Together our combined expertise and support ensures better outcomes for children found in what can be very challenging and tragic circumstances.
"Family violence and associated wider harm is a long-standing and complex problem in New Zealand," she said.
"Family violence has many contributing factors and is prevalent in multiple parts of our communities. It isn't limited to any particular socio-economic group or any particular community. Family violence occurs in every demographic across New Zealand."
She said the Government was investing in an integrated multi-agency response to family harm and the police responded to all reported family violence/harm episodes as a priority, working with partners to protect vulnerable families and their children.