Becoming a grandparent or kinship carer
Becoming a grandparent or kinship carer gives you many opportunities to teach, nurture and encourage a growing child. You can share family values and traditions, and give the child a stable home through the ups and downs of life.
But looking after children at any age takes time, patience and energy. Only you can decide if taking full-time care of a child will be right for you and the child.
If you’re finding it difficult to decide, or need help getting your family together to talk about the care of a child, you could talk to a local family counsellor. Relationships Australia also provides a range of counselling, family mediation and support services that can help.
Grandparents and kinship carers: tips for getting started
When you’re a new carer, there’s a lot to organise. It can be hard to know where to start. If the child has been placed with you by your state or territory child protection authority, case workers will usually help you. Your case worker will also let you know about the decisions you can make about the child, and the decisions that need the authority’s agreement.
Here are a few ideas to help you get organised.
National, state and local services for carers can give you advice and information on the support they offer. Australia-wide and state-based services might offer different support, so it’s a good idea to contact all the ones that might be able to help you. There’s a list of services below.
Arrange medical check-ups
When the child comes to live with you, it’s a good idea to make an appointment for a general check-up for her with your GP, plus dental and eye checks. These check-ups are a chance to identify any health issues that you might need to take care of when the child comes into your care.
Also keep in mind the child’s mental health and whether he needs counselling. If you’re worried about the child at all, talk with your GP, who’ll be able to tell you about local counsellors or psychologists.
If the child you’re caring for is enrolled in Medicare, you can still claim for the child’s medical treatment, even if you don’t have her Medicare card. Ask your doctor to phone Medicare on 1300 660 035 to find out the child’s Medicare number. You can also ask Medicare about having the child put on your Medicare card.
Organise clothing and other equipment
You might need to get clothes, school uniforms, car seats or prams for younger children, furniture like a bed and desk, and so on. Local support agencies can help you with new or used clothing, furniture and payments for families in need. You could start with your local Vinnies or Salvation Army.
Think about child care and school
Child care might be important for you if you’re still working or if you want to give yourself a bit of a break each week. For a school-age child, you’ll need to think about enrolling the child at school.
Tell people what you need
Case workers, courts, schools, doctors and other services are there to help you. It’s important to be clear with them about your needs and the needs of the child. Also ask for their advice on getting the best support for yourself and the child.
Getting your paperwork organised can help you keep track of things. You might like to keep a folder, diary or computer file or spreadsheet. You can use it to write down:
- who you’ve talked to
- when you talked to them
- what you talked about.
Also keep copies of any document or letters. If it all seems too much, ask a friend or family member to help you get organised.
Look into support for the child
Organisations like the Create Foundation, the Mirabel Foundation and the Pyjama Foundation provide support to children who can’t live with their parents. They hold events where children can meet others who are in the same situation.
If you need to talk about your situation, parenting and general hotlines
can really help. They can also give you information about services and support in your area.
Ongoing support for carers
Even if you’ve had the care of a child for some time, you still need information and support. If your situation changes – for example, because of retirement or illness – you can contact Centrelink for information about government payments. Or there might be an issue with the child’s parent that needs mediation or advice.
Taking a break
Caring for a child can be demanding, and everyone needs a break. In fact, taking a break from caring for your child is an important part of taking care of yourself.
You can get different kinds of respite. For example, you might be able to ask family or friends to care for the child so that you can have a weekend away. Some carer families find that they can take it in turns with the families of their grandchild’s friends for the children to sleep over. This can give everyone a break.
If the child was put into your care by a child protection authority, you’ll need to talk to the case worker before organising respite care for the child. To find out more about respite options in your area, call your local family support service or the child protection authority in your state or territory.
Joining a support group
You can find support groups for kinship carers all over Australia. Grandparents and kinship carers say that support groups are a ‘brilliant source of support and information’, and a great way to ‘get a lot of advice and suggestions’.
If you have the care of a child with a child protection order, you can also contact the foster care association in your state or territory. These associations sometimes also help grandparent and kinship carers who have the care of a child without a child protection order.