Grandparents who take on the role of rearing grandchildren in lieu of drug-abusing parents feel taken for granted by social services, according to new research conducted by Trinity College Dublin.

In addition to the stresses and strains directly associated with this kind of care-giving, grandparents reported considerable dissatisfaction with the support they receive from both the child protection system and the adult addiction treatment system and were generally of the view that there is poor integration between the two.

In particular, they were critical of the attitudes of child protection social workers who, it was suggested, believe that grandparent carers in these circumstances do not need or deserve formal support.

Grandparents also feel social workers lack expertise in relation to drug problems, and tend to separate the addiction issues from the childcare issues rather than seeing things holistically.

Grandparents who took part in the study, published in the Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, described a range of adverse physical, mental health, and financial consequences, including difficulty navigating the bureaucratic maze of state services when trying to seek financial help from support services.

They reported sleep deprivation, constant exhaustion, feelings of depression, anger, and guilt, and radical disruption to work and social lives, as well as damage to other relationships.

Shane Butler, associate professor in social work at Trinity, and co-author of the study, said their research highlights the need for the drafting of a formal protocol governing collaborative work between Tusla and the HSE to reduce the risk of these children falling between “two bureaucratic stools”.

Megan O’Leary of the National Family Support Network, and co-author of the report, said the stresses faced by grandparent carers are “further compounded by support services that are often ambiguous, unclear, and inconsistent in their approach to this group”.

The study, Caring for Grandchildren in Kinship Care: What Difficulties Face Irish Grandparents with Drug-Dependent Children?, examined the experiences of 11 grandparents. It was conducted at the School of Social Work and Social Policy.


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