GRANDPARENTS: We want our grandchildren to have a sense of belonging to their family.
GRANDPARENTS: We want our grandchildren to have a sense of belonging to their family.

We're not foster carers, we're family

WAGGA Wagga grandmother Colleen Beale is talking tough about grandparents being recognised instead of being buried within the foster care system.

"It's the process, policy and procedures that grandparents are subjected to when they are raising a family member that we object to," Colleen said.

 "We want our grandchildren to have a sense of belonging to their family.

"Families these days are not mum, dad and two kids.

"The kids have been through the same trauma that most kids in foster care go through, but they are with their family.

"Yet we have to jump through all the hoops that foster carers have to jump through; intrusive, humiliating assessment processes that could be done a lot better."

Colleen said currently grandparents come under the government's foster care model which she said treats them "a bit like second-class foster carers".

"We want changes around language and legislation in particular so that we can get on with our lives with our grandchildren without the interference and unnecessary processes that the department of family and community services place upon us."

The NSW Government said grandparents can apply under Guardianship Orders for the guardianship of their grandchildren, when the government said opens doors to funding and support.

"Placing children with their immediate or extended family is always a priority for Family and Community Services," the NSW Government spokesperson said.

"It is hoped that many more grandparents will consider guardianship so that their grandchildren are no longer considered to be in out of home care and grandparents have the autonomy they desire."

But Colleen argues the approach still doesn't account for the individual grandparent relationship.

They can't think a different way even though we are in greater number than foster carers.

"They need to divide that department and have a section that looks after grandparents and grandchildren, and the foster carers can do their own thing," the grandmother said.

Colleen cares for three grandchildren; one each from Victoria, Queensland and NSW.

She is 66 and her husband is 71. They have had a grandchild living with them full-time for 19 years.

"They all have the same mother, just different dads. It's drug and alcohol abuse with her.

"The little one from Victoria was removed from our daughter when she was about nine months old.

"She was put into foster care for seven years, but last year she was removed because of physical abuse.

"Our daughter got sober in the meantime, got her daughter back and that lasted three months.

"She was removed again and came to us for the holidays and she has been with us ever since.

"I don't know what is going to happen. I have dealt with Queensland and I now I am dealing with Victoria, and I am weary.

"We can't retire. I have given up my job. We have lost our freedom. We can't come and go as we please and the workload is considerable for people in our age group.

"There is community support, but you don't expect in your 60s that you would still be getting out of bed and packing school lunches and talking to teachers."

She also has to contend with case workers telling her how to raise the children within her husband's ancestral Kamilaroi people culture. "That is his duty, his job to instruct about culture, or not," Colleen said.

"We either do this job and get the right support, or some of us go under," Colleen added.

She now has until the custody hearing in April to make the hard decision as to whether she and her husband can continue to look after her little granddaughter who has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

The majority of the grandchildren that are cared for by members of Colleen's local grandparents support group have FASD or the characteristics which is a result of alcohol exposure during pregnancy that impacts on brain development and behaviours, group coordinator Lyn Reilly said. 

"This is a lifelong disorder that cannot be cured and the reason so many of the grandchildren have behavioural and learning issues which add to the trauma they have experienced, and challenge of raising grandchildren full time for grandparents," Ms Reilly said.

"It is also a societal issue," she added.

"It's a very difficult job," Colleen said as she mused over how common her story is among grandparents.

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