In 1997 Diane Vivian and her husband Erin took on the full-time care of their two grandchildren. When she looked around for support, she found none.
So she started the first support group for full-time grandparent caregivers in Birkenhead, Auckland, to help other grandparents who were struggling with a range of challenges.
She’d found a need, a huge need that was growing rapidly - and in 2001, she set up the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust.
“The turning point for me,” Vivian says, “was when taking children to a supervised access centre and seeing wee ones clinging to an older grandma and looking at her, struggle to fight back tears, I just knew something had to be done to support these people.”
Vivian says many grandparents are having to step in for safety reasons and take on the role of bringing their grandchildren up.
“We, being older, live in very different times to when we were young; drug problems can sometimes grip our children, violence seems to be everywhere and when it enters our lives we have to dig deep, really deep,” she says.
The stalwart advocate says this is not just a New Zealand problem, it’s worldwide, and it’s happening for a variety of reasons.
“Violence and neglect, mental illness, imprisonment, substance abuse, abandonment, death and terminal illness are some of the reasons the grandparents step up to the plate.
“This is one of the hardest things a grandparent undertakes, to go into a Family Court against your own child to keep at risk grandchildren safe, but do it they do, by the thousands. In doing this we are entering unsheltered waters, this divides families, places pressure upon one's finances and indeed one's health, but the grandchildren need us.”
Diane says getting together with other grandparents in the same situation, by heading along to Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group meetings, can really help.
“Friendships are made, external outings with others and the moko they have is a win/win situation for all concerned. Sharing of clothing and excess veggies is also a bonus. One realises one is not alone traveling this journey.”
She says the Government can do a couple of things to improve the lives of grandparent carers and their charges.
“I firmly believe that carers of children who have suffered past trauma should be paid for their role in keeping these precious ones safe. Along with training on the children's issues and education.”
After two decades of advocacy, Vivian’s advice to our hardworking female carers is simple - taking some time out is essential.
The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust provides support services throughout New Zealand to grandparents who are raising their grandchildren on a full-time basis. Find out more here: www.grg.org.nz