Role of grandparents - Helping to keep society together

Family resource centres throughout the country have been assuming a greater role in facilitating elderly people, because grandparents are assuming an ever-greater part in rearing their grandchildren, a report published by Family Resource Centre National Forum and Family Support Agency has revealed.

It is difficult to quantify the part played by grandparents in the rearing of children, as the information is not collated through census returns, and little research has been conducted in the area. But there is a general consensus they play a major childminding role, especially with so many mothers working outside the home.

A survey in Britain found that one-third of grandparents are devoting an average of 4.6 hours a day to rearing their grandchildren. This is believed to a European-wide phenomenon.

Using grandparents as childminders is expected to increase as the life expectancy of people increases, along with changes in society that a put more emphasis on the help of grandparents. In the past, women tended to give up their jobs outside the home when they got married, but this practice has changed greatly in recent decades.

Both parents working outside the home has had a profound impact on the economy and on society as a whole. Census figures indicate that there has been a dramatic increase in divorce in Ireland, which rose by almost 70% between 2003 and 2006. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of lone parents, up by 80%, and this, in turn, has increased the demands on grandparents for help.

Although many people have lost their jobs in the current economic crisis, this frequently means that they need to engage in training courses to find new employment and cannot afford to pay for childminding so the help of grandparents has become ever more vital.

In the midst of these increased demands, it has become ever more apparent that the role being played by grandparents has been undervalued for many years.

They are a vital part of the hidden army of unpaid carers who provide invaluable assistance. With the increased responsibility on their shoulders, the grandparents are looking for more support, especially from the Family Resource Centres, where they can be introduced to such benefits as email and the internet.

The voluntary contributions of grandparents do not show up in the gross domestic product. They are a microcosm of the carers doing vital work in society, whether it is tending to disable people or childminding. Their unpaid help frequently goes unrecognised by society as a whole.

We should recognise the value of their work, and when they experience difficulties, support should be available. We should not be looking to make savings at their expense. Without their help society itself is in jeopardy. They are the glue that keeps it all together.


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