Un­just for grand­par­ents and kids

Central Leader - - News -

Thou­sands of grand­par­ents took a well-de­served bow when Ruth Dyson told the coun­try on Bud­get night:

“Many grand­par­ents around the coun­try are play­ing an es­pe­cially valu­able role in car­ing for grand­chil­dren when they can­not be with their par­ents. They are shar­ing their skills and ex­pe­ri­ence with younger gen­er­a­tions. They can be great men­tors and role mod­els and can make such a dif­fer­ence to young peo­ple’s lives.”

Later, the grand­par­ents read the fine print.

As So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter she was an­nounc­ing a de­ci­sion to give $24.6 mil­lion more over four years to more than 7500 care­givers, in­clud­ing many grand­par­ents, who are par­ent­ing more than 10,300 chil­dren who can­not be looked af­ter by their par­ents.

She de­fined that $24.6m as “not only a pos­i­tive in­vest­ment in our chil­dren but also recog­ni­tion of the valu­able role played by care­givers such as grand­par­ents, and the costs they face”.

That fine print re­vealed the first of two flaws.

Those “valu­able peo­ple, great men­tors and role mod­els who can make such a dif­fer­ence to young peo­ple’s lives” – who are cur­rently get­ting less than other fos­ter par­ents – will wait un­til April 1 next year for par­ity and that pay rise.

Even then, the in­crease is not likely to change their lives or the lives of the chil­dren they care for.

Sam­ple in­creases: Up $5.49 to $127.99 (what a strange fig­ure) a week for a child up to four years old, up $8.80 to $148.53 for a child up to nine, up $21.27 to $179.19 for those 14-plus.

But there’s more – or to be pre­cise, there’s less. A sec­ond ma­jor flaw in the sys­tem has still not been fixed. It in­volves an of­fi­cial rul­ing that there are ap­par­ently three cat­e­gories of peo­ple do­ing all those good things that Ruth Dyson praised.

There are what are known in the min­istry jar­gon as “non-kin fos­ter par­ents” who are car­ing for chil­dren they are not re­lated to as the re­sult of a for­mal CYF care and pro­tec­tion de­ci­sion. They also get “add-on” pay­ments from the min­istry be­cause of “sup­port or­ders”.

Those al­lowances paid to them in­clude a quar­terly cloth­ing al­lowance of $376.15 each fos­tered child, pocket money of $12.93 a week (an­other odd amount) and $89.60 as both Christ­mas and birth­day money.

That’s group one. Then there are grand­par­ents or other rel­a­tives who par­ent chil­dren from their fam­ily or whanau un­der the same CYF ar­range­ment.

And there are oth­ers, grand­par­ents or other fam­ily who un­der­stand­ably, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, see them­selves as duty-bound to par­ent re­lated chil­dren, but, are not cov­ered by a min­istry “sup­port or­der”.

They are fam­ily mem­bers who step in with no CYF in­volve­ment, of­ten long-term, who par­ent chil­dren who are their rel­a­tives, ac­tu­ally or ef­fec­tively made or­phans by do­mes­tic cri­sis.

De­fined sim­ply as “kin car­ers” they are still miss­ing out on ex­tras worth $2356.16 a year for a 14-year-old in for­mal fos­ter care. They con­tinue to fall be­tween the cracks in the grand plan an­nounced by Ruth Dyson for next April.

It’s al­most as if the min­is­ter and the min­istry be­lieve: “Well, fam­ily should care for fam­ily any­way.”

The chil­dren on the outer be­cause of this are also pe­nalised.

As it stands – and as the gov­ern­ment seems to want to go on – they could look long­ingly across a sub­ur­ban fence and see oth­ers of their age and back­ground with clothes, presents and the teenage must-haves that they and their fam­ily car­ers can­not af­ford but which the state fi­nances for the oth­ers next door.

Most grand­par­ents who find them­selves in this predica­ment, rais­ing their grand­chil­dren, make huge fi­nan­cial sac­ri­fices to pro­vide a safe, stable and lov­ing home for chil­dren who so of­ten are phys­i­cally and/or psy­cho­log­i­cally scarred by the rough, un­car­ing and some­times dan­ger­ous years they have lived through.

Of­ten too those same car­ing grand­par­ents have to wage their own bit­ter le­gal bat­tle to pre­vent the chil­dren they love and care for from be­ing re­turned to that ter­ri­ble en­vi­ron­ment and dan­ger­ously ne­glect­ful par­ents.

They of­ten face huge le­gal bills to es­tab­lish safe cus­to­dial ar­range­ments for the chil­dren – while their proven faulty par­ents, fre­quently on a ben­e­fit, get le­gal aid.

Un­like le­gal fos­ter par­ents, who are younger than them and mostly have at least one in­come to draw from, the “grans” spend what was go­ing to be their re­tire­ment nest egg and re-mort­gage them­selves to buy the big­ger home needed and meet the many costs of rais­ing chil­dren.

They lose what they be­lieved would be the golden years of their re­tire­ment.

Where the plight of the chil­dren re­flects events in their fam­ily life they could never have fore­seen, grand- par­ents have to weather a dou­ble grief.

And there is the heart­break of fac­ing sons and daugh­ters across court­rooms be­liev­ing that the chil­dren they once shared should never be al­lowed into the cus­tody of par­ents who now can­not cope, per­haps suf­fer­ing the af­ter­math of drugs, vi­o­lence, abuse and jail.

Diane Vi­vian, 58, of Birken­head, see the is­sues from many dis­ad­van­tage points.

She and her hus­band Erin, 59, have been “no kin” grand­par­ents to two sis­ters, now aged 15 and 17, for the past 10 years, and for nine of those years Diane has been a driv­ing force as na­tional con­vener of the Grand­par­ents Rais­ing Grand­chil­dren Trust which she founded.

From her ex­pe­ri­ence she talks with­out per­sonal de­tails about com­mon prob­lems and also ex­tremes – like a cou­ple with eight “non-kin” kids in their care, the youngest of them autis­tic.

Diane knows what a dif­fer­ence those $2356 an­nual add-on pay­ments make. Be­cause of the le­gal ar­range­ments in­volved in the care she and Erin give their “two grand­daugh­ters – that’s how we think of them” – they don’t get that much-needed cash.

They don’t ar­gue the case for them­selves but for those blood grand­par­ents who are car­ry­ing the same re­spon- sibil­i­ties and don’t qual­ify ei­ther.

Diane: “What re­ally presses my but­ton is the sit­u­a­tion of th­ese el­derly car­ers, of­ten on fixed in­comes deal­ing with trau­ma­tised chil­dren, hav­ing, for in­stance, to de­cide against spend­ing money on their own health and wel­fare so that lit­tle Johnny can go on a school trip.”

So she praises the April pay­ments which will then match across fos­ter and “nonkin” house­holds.

But she is far from happy that peo­ple in real need have to wait all those months for that money to ar­rive.

And she is very clearly up­set – even an­gry – over the fail­ure to fix the “add-ons” is­sue.

She will con­tinue fight­ing this in­jus­tice.

She be­lieves the dis­crim­i­na­tion in­volved in the two dif­fer­ent pay­ment sys­tems is a breach of UN Rights of the Child rules.

To say noth­ing of it be­ing an in­jus­tice to, in Ruth Dyson’s words, the “great men­tors and role mod­els who can make such a dif­fer­ence to young peo­ple’s lives” but un­fairly have to cope with less.

As do the chil­dren they share their love and their life with.

To con­tact Pat Booth email: off­pat@snl.co.nz. All replies are open for pub­li­ca­tion un­less marked.

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