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Grandparents carrying welfare burden

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Grandparents are feeling the pinch from an overstretched child welfare system, sparking a call for more resources.

One agency, Grandparents for Grandchildren SA, said that while Families SA was referring an ever-increasing number of cases to it, the State Government has not provided any additional assistance to the agency.

Grandparents for Grandchildren SA founders John and Denise Langton told InDaily the agency is struggling to cope.

“Families SA send people to us but they don’t pay us to look after them; it would be nice if we were to get a payment but of course we don’t.” Denise Langton said.

It’s estimated more than 60,000 grandparents have sole-care responsibility for their grandchildren in Australia.

Grandparents for Grandchildren SA, a not for profit community organisation established a decade ago, is run entirely by volunteers.

Struggling month to month, the agency is now helping more than 600 South Australian families with another 300 “sleeping” files on the books.

“I find it ironic that Families SA refer people to us and we’re certainly not going to send them away because it’s about keeping children safe, but it makes you wonder what they’re actually doing.” Mrs Langton said.

While other organisations such as Anglicare and The Salvation Army do receive payments for Families SA referrals, Grandparents for Grandchildren appears to be out of the loop.

“We have applied for help before but we never seem to fit the criteria and they say Families SA should be handling it, and yes I suppose they should be but they’re not.

“We need funding and we need it quickly for larger premises and councillors because we just have so many families now.”

The agency also receives referrals from schools, hospitals, family court, youth court and even politicians.

Independent senator for South Australia Nick Xenophon helped John and Denise to establish Grandparents for Grandchildren, initially letting them work out of his office.

“This is one of the most worthy groups in the community for what they do and without them the state would have to pick up the pieces.” Xenophon said.

“They just want enough money to keep going – I mean this is the epitome of a selfless organisation.

“They have been treated shabbily by the government at a federal and state level.”

The Federal Department of Human Services said it has “grandparent advisers” on its staff, tasked with supporting those that have full-time caring responsibilities for their grandchildren.

However there is only one person in this role within South Australia and just six Australia-wide.

The Langtons say this single person faces a huge case load, with more than 600 SA families estimated to be seeking help.

Many of the cases reflect a growing social trend that places grandparents in extreme difficulty.

“When grandparents come here they don’t know what to do or where to go and it isn’t easy hearing some of the stories, you never get hardened to it,” Denise Langton said.

“We’ve had grandparents that have been hospitalised because it’s got out of hand.

“Seeing some of our volunteers, big burly men come in and sitting there sobbing for hours says something about the situation.”

Very little has changed during their 10 years of assisting grandparents to navigate tricky legal and emotional battles in keeping their grandchildren safe.

“We now have premises and get part payment for the rent, about $40,000 a year, but a lot of it gets spent on keeping children safe, that’s the only big change here,” she said.

Mrs Langton reports that the number of grandparents seeking help for their grandchildren has escalated over time and continues to grow, as more families come to Grandparents for Grandchildren with more severe issues.

“Substance abuse problems are still the most common reason children end up here suffering physical, mental and sexual abuse, there’s also more of them now.

“A lot of people would be surprised just how much this goes on in their own city and that’s why grandparents step in.”

South Australia was shocked when a court recently concluded that four-year-old Chloe Valentine died after her parents forced her to ride a motorbike.

Chloe’s grandmother, Belinda Valentine, had reported to Families SA that Chloe lived in an unsafe home, and the Office for Child Safety in Families SA received 22 notifications relating to Chloe.

Denise Langton says this is a familiar story among families referred to her organisation from Families SA.

“Unfortunately 22 reports is nothing, and I understand she probably did have a tidy home and food in the cupboard but they let them know they are coming and that’s the problem.

“Without spot checks Families SA don’t see the actions of the parents on a day to day basis, whereas we know because the grandparents keep us informed.”

Despite the challenges of keeping the organisation afloat, Denise Langton says it’s the success stories that make it all worthwhile and will continue to motivate her for years to come.

“We’ve got one lad who was diagnosed as an alcoholic at around seven years old.

“He was placed with his grandparents and now he has just matriculated, his grandmother never thought he would get that far, but he did and it was with our help.

“We’re only a little cog but we’re doing our damndest for these children.”

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