HELP NEEDED: Report identifies much more help is still needed for older carers.
HELP NEEDED: Report identifies much more help is still needed for older carers.

Senior carers in urgent need of support: research

THEY want to make a difference to a vulnerable child's life, but grandparents are struggling with the lack of vital support needed in their carer role.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies Working together to care for kids: A survey of foster and relative/kinship carers report released today identifies the many challenges facing relative/kinship and foster carers of vulnerable children and family members.

The researchers highlighted that carers need to be better informed and prepared for their role, they need more support while children are in their care due to the variety of care needs that emerge over time.  Many of these carers have stepped into the role without being fully aware of the child's developmental issues and without the skills to deal with those issues.

AIFS director Anne Hollonds said foster carers and relative/kinship carers want more professional services across child counselling and respite care, and better access to support groups.

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"This report doesn't distinguish between the capability of age groups," Ms Hollonds said. "Rather, it looks at the fact that in reality, relative or kinship carers is predominantly done by grandmothers or great-grandmothers. It's a wonderful thing that kids can be cared for within their own family because ultimately want to and need to stay connected with their family which we know is very important to them. We also found these relative or family carers, they need support as well."

Seniors aged 50 to 64 were found to comprise almost half the number of carers in Australia. The majority are females. Most of them were not in paid employment and almost half of them were dealing with two or more children in out-of-home care.

The report also found -

  • The grandmother relative/kinship carers are financially less well-off and experiencing more health problems.
  • They take on the care of the child often with limited support or preparation to handle the complex challenges.
  • The children live with them for an average of three to four years.
  • The children have commonly been exposed to family violence and alcohol and drug issues.
  • More than half of the children had been experienced emotional abuse.
  • About one-fifth of carers became aware of a child's issues after the child came into their care.
  • Only about a third of relative/kinship carers have received some form of training, compared to nine in ten foster carers.

"In some cases, there was a lack of awareness of what services were available," Ms Hollonds said. "For example, many carers were unaware of the Grandparent Adviser phone line which provides assistance to all carers, although the majority of those who had tried it found it to be very useful."

AIFS senior research fellow Dr Lixia Qu reported that many carers experienced difficulties and almost half said they were unlikely to look after another child in future, some suggesting that they were getting 'too old' and others that the emotional investment had taken its toll.

"Despite the difficulties, an overwhelming 90 per cent of all carers believed they were making a positive difference in a child's life, and caring for these children was a rewarding experience," Dr Qu added.

The report was commissioned by the Federal Government's Department of Social Services. "It was project with most of the states and territories," Ms Hollonds said. "I would expect this report will be looked at by policy makers across the jurisdictions that have a responsibility for out-of-care for vulnerable children."

To contact the national Grandparent Adviser service, go to or call 1800 245965.

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