Grandparents Carer

Reporter: Tim Noonan

Imagine raising a child on just over ten dollars a week but imagine doing it as a 70-year-old. Well over 18,000 families are and the parents are grandparents.

They've worked all their lives, paid taxes all their lives and in their last years are still helping others while no one is helping them.

Tim Noonan has this is a story about the lost carers in our country.

"We do everything together. He's retired and he plays lots and lots of games with me and doesn't have to work much. I'll never leave him, I love him too much. He's the best Dad in the world." Says Donnie

Like father, like son but Ross is not Donnie's Dad.

"You always notice where we park the car don't you!" says Judy

"Yep." Answers Sapphire

14-year-old Sapphire is not Judy's daughter but their bond is unbreakable.

"To me she's just like my mum, like, when I was a little I was alright calling her Nan but now I'm kind of wondering whether I should call her mum or not." Says Sapphire

TIM: How determined are you to give Saph the childhood that she deserves?" asks Tim

"All the way, I'll keep doing that for as long as I possibly can and that's every year of my life that's to come!" replies Judy

"I love you Nana, I'm going to cry." Says Sapphire

They should be looking forward to a peaceful retirement, but for tens of thousands of grandparents, like Errol and Mary, their golden years are a far cry from what they imagined.

"What's your reward?" Tim asks

"Seeing a happy face ... seeing a happy child." Replies Errol

They've given everything up to become parents again.

"To protect them and provide them with what they need in life, I'd be prepared to jump off a cliff for them if I had to ... it's as simple as that." Errol insists

"When I was five, I came to live with my grandparents and really I just thought it was just like a holiday, but then I just stayed there for ages and I didn't mind, I didn't even ask questions or anything." Says Sapphire

When Sapphire's mother couldn't cope, her father tried to raise her on his own. Desperate and alone he called on his mother, Judy, for help.

"Well she had her first three or four years with her Mum, then about six months in foster care and then six months with her Dad and then she came to us, so we were the fourth family she came to live in." says Judy

Judy and husband, Jeff were in their sixties when Sapphire moved in.

"Where I was free to, as a retired lady to go where ever I want, now we're bound by school hours." Says Judy

"She's like already been a mother and now she has to be it again cause it's kind of like she's had her children and she's retired and then she thinks she's going to retire and go on holidays with Granddad and then like I came and she just kind of had to put all the like what people do on hold." Says Sapphire

Donnie's parents were addicted to drugs and he was their last priority. At age two, they walked out of his life and approaching their seventies, grandparents Ross and Judy were left to pick up the pieces. Donnie is now eight.

"Do you remember the day that Donnie arrived on your doorstep?" asks Tim

"Yeah, because the parents arrived and said could we have him because they're leaving the state that night. They offered him and we weren't going to reject him, there's no choice there's no real decision presented to us. You can't say no, you know, cart him off to the gutter with you." Replies Ross

If Ross and Judy had said no, Donnie would've been left in foster care. But saying yes meant turning their lives upside down.

"It just sort of takes over your life and you fall into another routine, you abandon plan A and I guess we're on plan D, E or F or G I've lost count now." Says Ross

"So what gets you out of bed every morning then?" asks Tim

"Donnie" Ross laughs

"There's nothing quite like what Grandpa can't do what other Dads can." Asks Donnie

"The bones might creak a bit with some of these activities but the pleasure of him learning and getting something out of it and it's worth it. People say, oh he'll keep you young, I reckon he'll keep me tired!" says Ross

"Do you think you keep him young?" Tim asks Donnie "A bit." He replies

"Do you think you're keeping your grandparents young?" Tim asks Sapphire "Yes, definitely." She replies

"My Nan and Granddad still do a lot of things at their age, like, that older people usually wouldn't be able to do." Continues Sapphire

"Is there anything that worries you or scares you?" asks Tim

"Sometimes it scares me like whether they might get old and who would I live with after they pass away or something." Replies Sapphire

"I think my major concern is that by the time he's a teenager, I'll be in my 80s and I'll be a pretty grumpy old bugger by then I reckon."

"How would you feel if grandpa wasn't there for you one day?" asks Tim

"Really, really sad, I would." Replies Donnie

"Yes ... it's so sad these stories, you know kids parents get killed, they don't know where, what's going on, where they are going to, who's going to look after them and when these kids come to their grandparents they turn around and say what's going to happen if you die? Who can look after me?" says a teary John Ward

After raising his own grandkids, John Ward now runs support groups to help others in the same situation. Behind closed doors they gather in every city and country towns to share stories, and their pain.

"The little bloke, the little bloke ... is eight-years-old, he'll run of a night and he'll lock the doors so no one will steal him." Says George crying

"Yep ... it's a real problem, mate." Says a teary John

In Australia, at least 35,000 children are now being raised by their grandparents.

"There's only the tip of the iceberg of these kids living with the grandparents that we know of there's probably about another thirty or forty thousand that we don't even know of." Says John

While foster parents automatically receive an average of $200 per week, per child getting government help as a grandparent is a maze of red tape.

Some states offer as little as $12 per week.

Grandparents can apply for additional carer payments, but the process can take up to a year and if they custody of the child through the family court, they get NO state assistance at all.

"Some of the grandparents are real battlers, some are probably only on a pension, some are single grandparents, single pension grandparents and they've probably got two or three kids to look after. I've seen them go without medication, so they can put food on the table for these kids and that shouldn't happen." Says John

"How much of your savings for your retirement have you spent raising these kids?" asks Tim

"Nearly all of it" Replies Errol

Pensioners Errol and Mary are looking after five kids under the age of six. If three grandchildren weren't enough, incredibly they've taken on two more foster kids, but they wouldn't have it any other way.

"What sort of a child do you see looking back at you?" asks Tim

"A child in need, a child that needs somewhere to stay, where they feel safe, if they look at you and they come running to you and want a cuddle, you know jolly well they feel okay and they feel safe with you. If they run the other way, well you're not doing something right, are you? That's how I see it anyway." Says Errol

Errol had banked on using his savings to realise a dream.

"The caravan was originally purchased with the idea of touring around Australia with it. That hasn't happened as yet. I'm not sure that it will happen whilst we've got all these children in any case, they're more important than us touring around the country." Says Errol

"These grandparents are so determined they will go any way they can to get a better life for these kids because they can see they haven't had a life living with their parents. The gut they've got and the fight they've got in them is just unbelievable." Says John

"Why has it never been uncovered in Australia?" Tim asks

"I think the grandparents are too proud, they need support. They need a gold medal because they've got a real battle in front of them." Replies John

"People have said to me, oh, I don't know how you do it, I could never do that. But I think, when it comes to the crunch, if it was their grandchild in a lot of cases I think they would." Says Judy

It took years before Sapphire learnt to trust again.

Tim offers Sapphire an opportunity to thank her grandma "If you could say something to her now when she'll be watching."

"I love you nana, I'm going to cry." Says Sapphire covering her face

"How long do you want to be with Grandpa?" asks Tim

"Forever, we're family." Says Donnie

"He's part of us now, in some ways I've probably feel closer to him than I did with my own" says Ross

"Do you worry about the day when you might not be able to do these things with him?" Tim asks

"No I've decided I will until I drop. I've got a bit of life in me yet." Replies Ross

Further Details

Northside Grandparents Support Group.

Contact 0488 249603 Rosemary.

support and assistance for grand parents