Between an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 grandparents provide full time care for their grandchildren. Whether because of their own children’s death, imprisonment, drug or alcohol abuse, mental health problems, or other issues, this group of people in their fifties and sixties are ending up being parents all over again.
Anthony Wallace, aged 72, is one such grandparent. His daughter was manic-depressive, and he and his wife have been looking after their grandaughter since soon after she was born.
“It took years to get financial help from social services,” says Wallace, “even though we were saving costs to the country by keeping our granddaughter out of care.” After a long battle – and with help from the Grandparents Association – the couple were awarded a small allowance from the local authority.
Often, the biggest problem facing these second-time parents is the lack of financial support. There is no statutory allowance for grandparents providing care. Instead, it is a postcode lottery as to which local authorities provide help – and which don’t.
Ellie*, a grandmother from Aberdeen who attends the local Grandparents as Parents (GaP) support group, claims she was financially penalised for taking in her grandchildren after the death of her daughter.
“My daughter died in an epileptic fit, after which my son-in-law was charged with abusing his three sons – so I stepped in as their guardian,” she explains. “To start with, my son-in law sent me £90 a week, but he pocketed the Child Benefit and Tax Credits. I was told the £90 counted as income. As a result, I lost my Housing and Council Tax Benefits, ran up rent arrears of £800 and was threatened with eviction.
“I am registered blind and don’t have any savings to fall back on. For months I had nowhere to turn but, eventually, with the help of my MP and the council’s Welfare Rights Service, things got sorted out.”
Despite the difficulties grandparents face, research shows that children being looked after by their family experience greater commitment and placement stability than they might if they were taken into care.
Doris*, another member of GaP in Aberdeen, aged 68, explains. “My grandson has been with us since he was five years old. His parents were dependent on alcohol and heroin, and they asked me to look after him. It’s not easy. I am disabled, and my savings are all gone, but I do as best as I can because I love him.”
The Grandparents Association provides help with contact and residence issues (tel: 0845 4349585), Residence Orders and welfare benefits (tel: 01279 428040). They and Grandparents Plus also run a number of support groups. See their respective websites for more details:
* Not their real names