OP-ED: A Better System for our Kinship Carers is Crucial
Thursday 26 June 2020, The Examiner
How many people have heard of Kin Raising Kids, an organisation which encourages and supports kinship carers, including grandparents raising grandchildren, who are the primary carers of diverse family and kin.
We often hear the term parent or guarding concerning children. We all know what a parent is and what they do and, for many years, I had considered a guarding to be a temporary carer, such as close family member or perhaps a foster parent. While this isn’t necessary incorrect, the term “guardian” is far broader than this.
In reality, when these children are not in the state care system, their caring arrangement is usually informal, with costly and time-consuming court-mandated care arrangements being a disincentive to make alternative care arrangements legally formal.
About 80 per cent of all kinship carers in Tasmania are informal carers according to Kin Raising Kids Tasmania, which supports kinship carers, offers peer support, advocacy, information and referral services to member kinship families throughout Tasmania. It is this large contingent of kinship carers which tend to so often fall through the cracks and have little financial assistance.
In late 2019, Kin Raising Kids briefed Legislative Councillors on their work and the issues that informal kinship carers are continuously faced with, and some of their experiences were heart-rending. Often, carers tend to be grandparents raising children in situations where a child’s biological parent is unwilling or unable to look after and raise their child. With the alternative of having a child placed into the state system, grandparents are of course usually the ones who step up and take care of the child or children.
Often, the focus is quite correctly on the rights and welfare of the child. However, this isn’t to say that we can’t also consider the impact that an unexpected guardianship arrangement has on kin-carers such as grandparents. During the briefing, we heard about the personal experiences that some of the grandparents had shared, and I believe this is worth repeating in their words:
“Our plans for retirement changed immediately. The long-awaited grey nomad leisurely tour of Australia and other plans were set aside while we struggled with formula, baby food, nappies, daily bathing, walks in the stroller, trips to the park, play dates and stimulating a lively 11 month old, the life we had known changed dramatically… too old to form firm friendships with the parents of other toddlers and finding our social lives very restricted, over the years we sadly watched most of our friendships fade away along with the activities we used to enjoy in their company.”
As this couple entered their sixties, they found their days filled with activities for the child and either falling asleep in front of the tv or falling into bed exhausted. They further said that they had spent the entirety of their married life of 32 years, raising two children who would have otherwise been in in state care, and received neither recognition nor assistance for their efforts and sacrifices.
They were also very clear that, should they have to do it all again, they would do so in a heartbeat and that it could never have been any other way. Kinship carers are often confronted with complex psychological problems arising from abuse, neglect, violence and issues such as the children’s parents’ drug and alcohol addiction; problems which require appropriate training and experience to deal with. In contrast, foster carers are trained, prepared and supported before receiving children and during their care for them.
It is not through positive circumstances when a child must be taken care of by someone other than their parent or parents. It is usually something which has resulted from tragedy with addiction, neglect, violence and abuse being common factors and additional challenges for their carers. This makes the job of Kinship Carers all the more difficult and intimidating, whether they be grandparents, siblings, close or distant relatives.
Likewise, this makes the work of Kin Raising Kids all the more important, as they are filling a gap which has so unfairly developed for carers in informal care situations, who receive little to no acknowledgement or support, whether that be financial, mental or emotional.
Kin Raising Kids Tasmania is working towards resolving that.
Kin Raising Kids aspires to establish a kinship care network across Tasmania, represent the collective view of their carers, raise public awareness and develop partnerships with similar organisations and support services related to looking after, and raising children.
Working towards a better system for Kinship Carers is vital if we are to ensure that these children and their kinship carers are properly supported and the extraordinary work being done by Kin Raising Kids Tasmania and their affiliate and partner organisations are making great strides towards that goal.
Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor
Rosemary Armitage MLC