Grandparents surveyed expressed “anger” at child protection services and said no issue was “more contentious” than access to State financial support, such as foster care and guardianship payments.
The research said that grandparents reported a range of adverse effects on themselves from the strain of taking on their grandchildren, including:
- Five of the 10 families surveyed said they had to give up work to care for their grandchildren.
- Some reported damage to their own marriage; with two saying it had led to divorce.
- In a few cases, their own children were emotionally abusive and physically aggressive.
- The grandparents suffered a range of other effects, from sleep deprivation to exhaustion, to feelings of depression, anger and guilt.
- Some resorted to prescribed anti-depressants and sedatives and two explicitly discussed ideas that bordered on suicidal ideation.
The study was conducted by Megan O’Leary of the National Family Support Network and Shane Butler of Trinity College.
The research, entitled ‘Caring for Grandchildren in Kinship Care’, found that grandparents reported that the relationship with their drug-using children was “generally problematic and acrimonious”.
It said: “Access visits were reported as being particularly difficult, with parents failing to turn up, turning up while intoxicated, making unrealistic promises to children during these visits, or, on occasion, threatening to remove children from the care of their grandparents.”
The study, which is published in the Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, said most grandparents expressed anger at the child-protection system and that some social workers cited their good parenting skills as a reason not to give them support — even where they were looking for it.
They accused social workers of being unwilling to assist with bureaucratic issues.
“It was generally argued that social workers set and pursued their own agenda, with little or no recognition of the needs of grandparent carers,” the study said.
There was no issue “more contentious” than access to state financial support.
Three families received the foster carer allowance (€312-€399 a week). Four families got the guardian’s payment (€161), while three families got no payment.
One of those on foster allowance was pressured by the child-protection system to take on the role.
Another one was “forced to take legal proceedings against the HSE” to have the children removed from non-relative foster care into their relative care.
The judge granted the application, but the family subsequently expressed dissatisfaction with the bureaucratic system and was “unhappy with the attitude of social workers”.
Others were told that they could not be granted foster status if they had already stepped in to care for their grandchildren.