Challenged Hope

Grandmother raising Grandchildren with FASD in Hamilton Ontario Canada


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Teen Sex

The expanding phenomenon of grandchildren being raised by grandmothers should be added to the long list of global violations against women for, grandmothers of all nationalities who opt to commit such a substantial part of their lives to their children’s children are often blamed for the situation, disregarded by society, and expected to raise abandoned, orphaned, or otherwise parent-less grandchildren simply because child rearing is considered a normality for women and any hesitation on the grandmother’s part is viewed with disdain.

To address this issue, communities should consider….

  • the enormous emotional, physical, and financial hurdles faced by women who have spent over twenty years raising children, then commit to spend a further twenty raising grandchildren with equal, and in some cases more, love, responsibility, support, understanding, and leadership, while trying to cope with aging, loss of energy, and the huge invasion of their independence as seniors.
  • the fact that any parent can unexpectedly find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to make a decision around raising their grandchild(ren).
  • the need for supports within the community to offset the numerous expectations placed upon the shoulders of grandmothers who, most often, out of compassion rather than ability, elect to become the primary caregiver to a grandchild(ren).

While raising my mentally disabled grandchildren, I have felt neglected by a society whose majority appears to share the opinion that this is a life-style I brought upon myself through poor parenting of my own children.

Neglected because :

  • The government has stubbornly refused to pay me more than 0.97 cents per hour for raising my three grandchildren, whereas if they had been placed in foster care the government would have by now spent hundreds of thousands of dollars providing for them while in care.
  • As a new parent again, I was expected to provide everything a baby, or babies in my case, need in a home to survive – formula, bottles, sterilizer, diapers, clothing, bedding, crib, dresser, change table, high chair, playpen, car seat, potty, stroller, toys, baby swing, etc., with no help from the Children’s Aid Society or anyone else for that matter.
  • The majority of people refuse to recognize the mental disabilities of my grandchildren as a result of inherited genetics and alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and blame their behaviours, instead, on poor grand-parenting.
  • Services to help my mentally disabled grandchildren were slow-coming and pitiful.
  • The attitude of many medical professionals and community volunteers was condescending and less than helpful.
  • As a parent/grandparent my voice is frequently unheard above those of professionals who have the credentials but not necessarily the experience with mental disabilities. Whereas, I believe, in this situation, experience should count ninety-eight per cent over education.
  • People my own age do not want to befriend me as they are empty-nesters and therefore want nothing to do with a grandmother raising young children.
  • The futures of my grandchildren, who basically have no family other than me, are shaky to say the least, for when I die they will probably be young adults unable to care for themselves without supervision – but whose? A question I have yet to have answered sufficiently enough to put my mind at rest.
  • Society refuses to even attempt to understand the emotional turmoil we grandmothers endure while attempting to raise our, often mentally disabled, grandchildren.

But the most important Neglect of all:

  • While society placed emphasis on the full rights of my grandchildren’s biological parents to choose not to use birth control, or to raise their children, or to have access to them, or to financially support them – while growing up, my grandchildren seemed to have very few rights: no right to a secure financial upbringing; no right to public understanding of their mental problems; no right to not be bullied over their mental disabilities; no right to neighbourly concern; no right to be heard when voicing a concern over another’s persons negative attitude toward them; no right to be angry toward parents whose irresponsible choices guaranteed them a lifelong struggle with disabilities.

Grandmothers raising grandchildren is a growing trend downplayed by societies who are not sure what to do with it nor, more importantly, how to stop it. Governments get away with under-funding GRG’s because raising grandchildren is viewed as a natural family responsibility while the grandchild who is being raised, especially, by a single grandmother is being viewed by society as The New Bastard: needy, unloved and unwanted by their parents, offensive to the sensibilities of traditional family values, inferior to peers, non-essential to community enhancement, and a total burden on society.

So what are we to do with this strange and problematic trend?

What Not To Do!

  • Turn a blind eye and hope the problem soon goes away?
  • Unrealistically believe sexually active teens will suddenly see the light and use birth control every time they have sex?
  • Demand teens abstain from sex?
  • Demand teens abstain from alcohol?
  • Insist grandmothers say no to raising their grandchildren and hope that a harsh stint in foster care will ensure the grandchild does not repeat the cycle by parenting an unwanted child in the future?
  • Keep projecting poor parenting skills upon mothers, thereby placing full responsibility for the raising of her future grandchild(ren) at her feet?

None of the above has worked so far, so why continue with the belief that one day they will. My experience tells me that to eliminate the dilemma of grandmothers raising their grandchildren we need to get to the root of the problem which is, the majority of the time, sexually active teens having unprotected sex. I say we, because it will take community involvement to eradicate or, at the very least, reduce the rates of incidents where grandmothers have to become the primary caregiver to grandchildren.

What To Do!

  • Parents/Guardians should discuss birth control with their children, including an explanation of the dangers of the consumption of alcohol while sexually active. Also, it must be made clear to the teen that the caregiver has made the decision not to raise a grandchild should the situation arise. Sometimes all it takes is to set an initial boundary with the teen.
  • A further discussion around the challenges grandmothers face while raising their grandchildren should be continued in schools during sexual health education.
  • Information on the subject should be made available in health care clinics, and hospitals.
  • Brochures promoting the subject of grandmothers raising grandchildren should be made available in public libraries, youth centres, recreation centres and other public places.
  • Information and support for any grandparent considering raising grandchildren should be available from councils on aging.

As stated by the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2008: 

Since schools are the only formal educational institution to have meaningful (and mandatory) contact with nearly every young person, they are in the unique position to provide children, adolescents and young adults with the knowledge, understanding, skills, and attitudes they will need to make and act upon decisions that promote sexual health throughout their lives (p.19).

As stated in Sexual Health Education in the Schools: Questions & Answers (3rd Edition) (Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, 2004, p.596)

“it is imperative that schools, in cooperation with parents, the community, and health care professionals, play a major role in sexual health education and promotion”

As stated in Sexual Health Education in the Schools: Questions & Answers (3rd Edition)

Surveys of youth have clearly shown that young people in Canada want sexual health education to be taught in school…. For example, a survey of high school youth found that 92% agreed that “Sexual health education should be provided in the schools” and they rated the following topics as either “very important” or “extremely important”: puberty, reproduction, personal safety, sexual coercion and sexual assault, sexual decision-making in dating, relationships, birth control and safer sex practices, and STIs (Byers at al, 20003a). National surveys of youth in Canada have found that schools are the most frequently cited main source of information on sexuality issues (human sexuality, puberty, birth control, HIV/AIDS) (Boyce, Doherty, Fortin & Mackinnon, 20003) and rank highest as the most useful/valuable source of sexual health information (Frappier at al., 2008).

Grandparents should not be expected to make a decision to become a permanent primary caregiver to a grandchild(ren) before supports are accessed. No grandparent fifty years of age or over shall be granted custody of a newborn grandchild. No grandparent fifty-five years of age or over should be granted custody of a grandchild ten years of age or under. No grandparent over the age of sixty should be granted custody of a grandchild.

  • Before the child is placed with the grandparent/s, the grandparent/s must attend a session/s outlining all legal aspects that apply to taking custody of a grandchild pertaining to the location where the adult resides. The session/s should be instructed by an experienced family lawyer with full knowledge of what grandparents experience in the court room when applying for custody. Discussion of parental capacity assessments, the plan of care, and visitation rights of the child’s biological family should be included. Legal financial assistance should be researched, as should what would happen if the grandparent/s take permanent custody of the child only to discover they are unable to cope and want to relinquish custody.
  • Following the session, if the grandparent/s want to continue with their application and temporary custody is granted, the grandparent/s should be required to fulfill several obligations before receiving permanent custody as, once permanent custody is granted, it can be extremely difficult to relinquish.

Obligations, such as:

  • Every three months the grandparent/s must attend a doctor’s appointment for an update on their health and stress level. This medical report should be admitted to the court. If the doctor believes the grandparent is risking severe health problems by continuing to parent the grandchild, the court would need to decide if alternate arrangements should be made for the child.
  • As parenting ideals change from generation to generation, potential custodial grandparents should attend several parenting workshops during the time they have temporary custody. Education; daycare; medical health; vaccinations; stages of development; discipline; healthy eating; exercise; understanding computers and social networking; to name a few important aspects of raising a child, need to be discussed during the workshops.
  • If it appears the child suffers with mental health or behaviour disorders due to genetics or Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, grandparent/s should be made aware of the possible problems they could encounter while raising the child. Resources to aid children with mental health disorders should be introduced to the grandparent/s for future reference. 
  • While a grandparent has the right to permanent custody, this should look vastly different from the permanent custody granted to a younger individual. A grandparent should only be granted part time care with the child going to the homes of other family members or trusted friends on alternate weekends and some evenings. This will avoid the grandparent becoming exhausted by the natural demands of the grandchild. A full commitment for this respite from family members or friends should be signed and admitted to the court. If the grandparent is unable to secure respite the court would need to decide if alternate arrangements should be made for the child.
  • On no account should the grandparent be expected to quit work to care for the child, nor be forced to apply for social assistance. While no person wants to acknowledge that money should effect custody, the financial situation of the grandparent is paramount to the child’s satisfactory upbringing.
  • Most baby items and necessities should be loaned to the grandparent by CAS or a charitable organization until it is known if permanent custody will be granted. That way the grandparents will not suffer the financial loss when having to buy the necessary items only to discover they are unable to care for the child. Only if permanent custody is granted will the grandparent be responsible for the cost of the items.
  • A parent’s aide or public health nurse should visit regularly with the grandparents and child throughout the custody hearing, to confirm the child is being parented appropriately and that the grandparent is able to cope with the responsibility. When the child is placed permanently with the grandparent, follow up visits by the caseworker should continue on a quarterly basis. 
  • A help-line geared to the needs of aging caregivers should be made available 24/7 to assist with support, information, and other appropriate services.
  • The Council of Aging should be informed when a grandparent is granted custody of a grandchild. The grandparent should be assigned a worker or volunteer from the council to oversee the grandparents willingness and ability to continue parenting and to provide telephone support when necessary.

While I realize some of these applications may already be in place, confirmation that each one is working in the best interest of the child and grandparent as opposed to what is in the best interest of CAS funding should be made available to the court. If any one of the above programs fail, alternative placement of the child should be advised.

But just as important is the need for communities as a whole to get involved through education on the dangers of teen drinking plus unprotected sex, and the dilemmas faced by grandparents who choose to raise their grandchild(ren).

 So, let’s get with it! Start talking, start teaching, start a discussion! 

Together we can eliminate the need for parents to raise their children’s children!

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