Grandparent carers ask for more assistance

Grandparent carers ask for more assistance

Grace and Jimmy Sutton with grandmother Theresa. The Suttons are one of about 3500 West Australian families where grandparents are full-time carers. Photograph - Aaron Van Rongen.

A Cannington grandmother who was thrown back into parenting after the death of her daughter and grandchild said not enough support was given to people forced to become carers later in life.

Theresa Sutton from Cannington is 62-years-old and had already raised two children of her own when she was thrust back into full-time caring following her daughter’s death.

Sara Sutton was 27-years-old when she and her six-year-old grandson William were killed in a car accident.

Two-year-old Jimmy and four-year-old Grace were in the car but survived the accident.

Theresa flew to Western Australia from Queensland to take on the role of carer for her grandchildren.

She was in the family court for seven years before she was granted custody and has now cared for the children full-time for four years.

With the children now 14 and 16-years-old Ms Sutton said she had struggled to support the children without adequate government support and said there were times early on when she hit rock bottom.

“You’re battling going from one day to the next. You haven’t got time or energy. It’s extremely hard – there’s no way I could overstate how hard it is.”

Money was also an issue and Ms Sutton had recently spent three quarters of her savings on a replacement car as the cost of maintaining her old car had outweighed the cost of purchasing a new car.

She said there was limited support available for grandparents who were the primary carers of children.

Grandparent carers, or “grandcarers”, made up a considerable percentage of the estimated 310,000 Western Australians who provide unpaid care and support to a family member or friend.

WA’s largest foster care agency Wanslea estimated there may be about 3500 families in the state in which grandparents are full-time carers.

The Grandcarers Support Scheme run by Wanslea offers eligible carers $400 annually for the first grandchild and $250 for each subsequent child but Mrs Sutton said $650 a year for two teenagers was not enough.

On top of this the support stops when children turn 16.

A 2009 report by the WA government listed Centrelink and support groups Parenting WA, Wanslea Family Services and Anglicare among those which offered over-the-phone support for finance, mental health and child management.

However, Ms Sutton said many grandcarers were without assistance because they did not know they were eligible.

Children were usually taken into the care of grandparents because of serious issues at home or because of the death of one or both parents and Ms Sutton said grief and having to deal with the after effects of drugs, alcohol or mental health issues makes it hard for new carers to organise themselves.

“In the early days it’s so hard – these kids are traumatised, the grandparents are traumatised,” she said.

“There are still many people I come across all the time who just don’t know what’s out there. They’re just doing it.”

Raising Children Network was an Australian website which provided information for parents of all ages on raising children and received over 40,000 hits a day.

The Network was hosting a grandcarers forum at the WACA on Friday May 12.

It was being hosted to bring grandcarers together and provide them with contacts for individual support services and to other grandparent support groups.

Ms Sutton said she would be going along and hoped the event would provide useful information to other people in her situation.

She said she also hoped it would be the first of more events for grandcarers to learn about services available to them.

“For some further from the metro area it’s a long way to go but I hope it’s going to be very helpful.”

Minister for Seniors and Ageing Mick Murray said even though Ms Sutton said she wanted more support for grandcarers, WA was “one of the few Australian jurisdictions that provides this type of support to grandcarers.”

“Between November 2013 and February 2017 payments were made to 1611 grandcarers in WA, caring for 3046 children,” he said.

“Grandcarers may also be eligible for Commonwealth Government support payments and allowances through Centrelink.

Mr Murray said he recommended grandcarers investigate the Grandcarers Support Scheme as well as the Wanslea Grandcare Program and Grandcarers Assistance Program.

The free Raising Children Network event would be run on Friday May 12 from 10am to 2.30pm at the WACA Ground Boundary Room.

Entrance was through Gate 2 on Nelson Crescent.