December 28, 2011
GRANDPARENTS who care for grandchildren full-time have ignored a request by the state government to report their adult children to the Child Support Agency to enforce maintenance payments. The sole grandparent known to the Herald who has complied with the request so far was abused by her daughter after the agency contacted her about making payments.
''You've got my children, now you want my money,'' the woman shouted at the grandmother.
The Family and Community Services Minister, Pru Goward, announced last month parents would be expected to contribute to the cost of raising children placed with grandparents and other relatives. Letters were sent to grandparents to encourage them to contact the Child Support Agency so it could make automatic deductions from parents' salaries or welfare payments.
Mr Bickford said in 90 per cent of the cases, the adult children were on the Newstart Allowance or the Disability Support Pension. Most grandparents would be entitled to receive only $7 a week under the Child Support Agency formula.
Paul Bickford, the president of Grandparents as Parents Again saidNone of the 100 or so grandparent carers from the mid-north coast informally polled at a Christmas function would ask their children for money or contact the Child Support Agency.
They said 'absolutely not', they won't do it.
They're afraid of the violence. A lot of the [adult] children are unstable. The reason we have their children is because they're in danger of their parents.
Paul Bickford saidWe thought it was a waste of time
She said the grandmother who did report her daughter to the agency was surprised at its quick response and distressed by the daughter's abusive phone call.
Karen Lizasoain, the kinship care support worker for Samaritans saidI had to re-assure concerned grandparents it was not obligatory to contact the agency.
One grandparent called Community Services to check and was told 'we strongly urge you'. When a government letter comes urging grandparents to do something, they try to do the right thing
But many of the 300 grandparent carers she supported were ''horrified''.
They didn't want to go down that track
Grandparents receive a Supported Care Allowance from the state that varies from $206 to $311 a week. Ms Lizasoain said grandparents knew receipt of child support in other circumstances affected Centrelink payments and feared it might eventually affect their care allowance.
Ms Goward has told the Herald she believed most grandparents would want to apply for child support for their grandchildren's sake.
A departmental spokeswoman commented and saidThe philosophy behind the measure was ''shared responsibility''.
This month Community Services notified foster carers of 16- and 17-year-olds, including grandparents, their allowance would be cut as their charges had become eligible for the federal Youth Allowance.
Dona Graham, the chief executive at DAISI, an information service in Ballina saidThree frightened grandparents had contacted her in the belief it was compulsory to seek the child support. ''We're sending the message to grandparent carers: They don't have to act on this.'
The former Labor government caused panic among grandparent carers in February last year when it initiated a review of their eligibility to retain the care allowance and the grandchildren.
Mr Bickford saidThe government's trying to attract new foster carers but they're not going about it the right way
Secretary of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia, Wayne Butler saidThe number of children who are in "Kinship" care is staggering and most recent statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW, 2011) report that, as of 30 June 2010, there were 35,895 Australian children living in out-of-home care. Not all of these are with grandparents in kinship care, where the caregiver is a family member or a person with a pre-existing relationship with the child; but in Australia 45.5 % of the 35,895 children out of parental care live with their Grandparent(s).
This means that over 16,300 children live with Grandparent(s) either voluntarily placed by parents or with court orders.
The CSA might be better attacking the problems of collection through direct negotiation with the parents via Centrelink requests, and providing the funds to Grandparents or other groups that are looking after the 35,895 children out of home care.
Leaving it up to Grandparents to make the application is a recipe for trouble, leaving Grandparents open to abuse and threats from wayward children who have a range of social problems themselves, and for whom all available money is critical in maintaining their existing lifestyle.
What is clear is that the number of children in out-of-home care has risen every year over the last 10 years (AIHW, 2011) and the trend looks to continue so the problem is going to increase. The financial obligation of parents, who are receiving Centerlink funding and where the children are being looked after by others, cannot simply be abandoned by those parents simply because they choose to opt out of parenthood.
The responsibility is with Centrelink to ensure appropriate deductions are made for the benefit of the children involved. Perhaps even some sort of an account for use by those children when they are 18 may be a palatable alternative for those parents who have no wish to interact with their children or their children's carer and are reported by the carer as likely to be abusive. Perhaps as an extreme measure those parents who are abusive to the Grandparent carer might have their benefits cancelled.. I am sure I will cop criticism from some quarters for that suggestion.