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Drugs a big factor in grandparents caring for grandchildren


19 March 2003
Former NSW police commissioner Tony Lauer and his wife are not alone in having to care for their grandchildren because of their daughter's heroin addiction, as featured on ABC Australian Story this week (17/3/03).

One third of grandparents interviewed as part of research at Southern Cross University recently had taken on full-time or part-time care of their grandchildren because of their child's drug abuse.

Jan Backhouse, in the University's School of Social Sciences, found five out of 16 grandparents she interviewed for her Honours thesis last year were involved in their grandchildren's care because of their child's drug addiction.

Ms Backhouse, a grandmother herself, now hopes to interview 100 grandparents who are raising their grandchildren full-time, for her PhD. She expects a large number to be due to their children's drug abuse or their children being in jail (and possibly drug-related).

"The most disturbing part of my thesis was in the area of drug addiction, and it showed that the drug epidemic in the last 30 years has had an enormous influence on some grandparents," she said.

"One third of the grandparents I interviewed had felt the impact of drug abuse on their grandparenting role, and two of them were raising their grandchildren full-time because their own children were incapable."

Those two were grandparents with legal custody of their grandchildren because their daughters were addicted to heroin. One grandmother had custody of her two grandchildren, and a grandparent couple had custody of their grandson.

Another grandmother had custody of her granddaughter because her son was a recovering heroin addict and had HIV, but he was well enough to share the childcare with her. Another grandmother felt the need to frequently care for her granddaughter due to her daughter's recreational drug use.

Also one grandparent couple had their daughter, a recovering heroin addict, and her two children living with them for about six months until they moved out recently.

Ms Backhouse's colleague and supervisor Trevor Lucas presented a paper based her research at an Australian Institute of Family Studies conference in Melbourne last month, causing a lot of interest.

Also in February, Federal Minister for Family and Community Services Larry Anthony, announced his office would conduct a study, in conjunction with the Council on Ageing (COTA), into grandparents raising their grandchildren, to be completed in June.

For her Honours thesis, Ms Backhouse looked at eight key social changes of the 20th century and their affect on grandparents. In addition to drug and alcohol abuse, she looked at the impact of: feminism; childcare role; traditional family structure; modern divorce laws; child abuse, and medical and communications technology. The grandparents she interviewed ranged in age from 35 (a woman became a mother at 17 and her son had a baby at 17) to 75, from the Northern Rivers' region.

Another issue to emerge, apart from drugs, was the difficulty in paternal grandparents gaining access to their grandchildren when their son separated from his partner and had little access to his children. It could be costly for such grandparents to fight for access through the Family Court, but a devastating situation for them, Ms Backhouse said. One couple she interviewed was in this situation.

The research also highlighted the need for government-funded childcare, since not all grandparents were willing or able to take on the childcare responsibility when their daughter (or son) was working.

For people interested in Jan Backhouse's PhD study please contact her Ph: 02 6620 3882 (uni), or email: [email protected].