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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Child and Adolescent Services of Hamilton, Ontario

According to the http://www.hamilton.ca website, Child and Adolescent Services is an…

  • Outpatient Children’s Mental Health Centre funded by The Ministry of Children and Youth Services. Our staff includes Child and Youth Workers, Clinical Therapists, Psychometrists (specialists in psychological testing), Marriage and Family Therapists, a Psychological Associate and Social Workers. Together, we have a wide variety of skills and experience.
  • We offer family therapy, individual counselling, play therapy, psychotherapy, psychological testing and consultation to community agencies and facilities. Our Forensic Unit offers services for those in trouble with the law (assessments for fire setters, sex offenders, Young Offenders and post dispositional treatment for Young Offenders). We also offer specialized treatment services for trauma and dissociation.
  • The programs at Child and Adolescent Services are designed to meet the unique needs of our clients. Our staff start with the basic premise that all families have strengths and resources. Our goal is to identify these unique strengths and resources, and to support families who are working towards a positive future. We believe in the uniqueness of individuals and their right to discreet, confidential services.

We value each person as an important and unique individual as perceived by self and others.

  • The family is the natural place of the child while affirming the child’s need and right to interact with the community and to be safe in all environments.
  • Respect the rights of others to hold values and beliefs different from those we hold ourselves.
  • Treatment, research and prevention which utilizes several disciplines and partnerships within the community and beyond.
  • Good morale and the contributions of all staff and others involved with clients.
  • Child and Adolescent Services’ strategic involvement in the community (planning).
  • Clients have the right to be involved in planning their services and have rights to information where appropriate.

As a grandmother raising grandchildren with ADHD, FAS, Intellectual disabilities, and behavioural disorders, I am guilty of being overly confident of their ability to make sound choices, and of being naive about what the future might bring. For some strange reason, when I took custody of my grandchildren, I thought our future together would be bright despite the fact that their birth mother (my daughter), and their fathers suffered from equally or more severe disabilities as the children themselves, so when one of my grandchildren, on becoming a teen, began showing signs of being severely out of control, I put it down to adolescence when I should have been much more aware of the confusion disabled adolescents might suffer as they enter their teen years.

As a result of my grandchild’s actions, the police became involved and he was charged with criminal activity. We as a family were subsequently directed to Child and Adolescent Services of Hamilton, Ontario, for assessments and counselling. Now, I have to admit, after all the emotional turmoil I experienced when seeing my grandchild arrested, charged, and incarcerated, I wasn’t looking forward to being reminded how bad a parent I was by any counselor, so I’m pleased to report that the staff at the Child and Adolescent Centre couldn’t have been more understanding, which certainly took a load of unnecessary guilt off my mind. Fortunately, after a lengthy physiological assessment by C & A, the court decided that the my grandchild should not be placed in custody and was, instead, placed in foster care and assigned a probation officer.

If you live in the Hamilton-Wentworth area and feel you could benefit from the help of Child & Adolescent Services, please call Contact Hamilton at 905-570-8888 or go to www.hamilton.ca and click on Public Health & Social Services, then choose Child & Adolescent Services from the list.


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Lynwood Charlton Centre, Hamilton, Ontario

What is Residential Care?

Residential Care as a whole can be many things, in many different countries, but in general refers to long or short-term care for adults or children with disabilities, mental health problems, or learning difficulties. Some of the programmes offered for children with mental health problems are: Anger management Assessments; Behaviour Management; Crisis Intervention; Day Treatment; Family Counselling; Group Therapy; Individual Therapy; Life Skills; Training Outreach; Parent Support and Training; Problem-solving Skills; Referral Services; Residential Care Service Coordination; and Social Skills Groups.

For families residing in the Hamilton, Ontario, area INFORM HAMILTON at http://www.informhamilton.ca describes Lynwood Charlton Centre as….. a children’s mental health centre. It offers services to emotionally and behaviourally disturbed male and female children between 0 and 18 years of age, and their families, who reside in the greater Hamilton area. Services include residential and non-residential components as described below:

  • Day Treatment School Program: Emphasis is placed on reintegration of children to their community school settings. Children may be served in either the on-site classrooms or through the outreach team working with children in their home schools. Access to the program is through a Board of Education referral.
  • Flamborough Residential Program: 831 Collison Rd, Flamborough, L9H 5E2
    Phone: 905-627-8475; Fax: 905-627-8482 10 bed residential program for male youths aged 12 – 18 in the care of the Child Welfare Societies of Hamilton. The program is staffed by child and youth workers, a part-time social worker and a consulting psychiatrist.
  • Intensive Child and Family Services Program: A home-based service that is provided to children, 0 to 18 years of age, with emotional and behavioural difficulties and their families in their own homes, communities and schools. The program is staffed by trained child and youth workers and a consulting psychiatrist.
  • Residential Program: A structured live-in treatment milieu for 16 children aged 6-13. The program is staffed by trained child and youth workers, social workers and a consulting psychiatrist.
  • Treatment-Foster Care Program: A service available to children in the care of the Brant CAS and Hamilton CCAS who would benefit from a placement in a treatment foster home. The service is staffed by foster parents supported by child and youth workers, social workers and a consulting psychiatrist.

My youngest granddaughter, at the time of my writing, is ten years of age and currently registered at Lynwood Charlton in Hamilton, Ontario. Her extreme behavior problems caused in part by ADHD, FAS, and an identified communication disorder, had become so out of control that I was advised by a Lynwood Charlton caseworker to call CONTACT HAMILTON and request she be placed on the waiting list for residential care.

For six months prior to my call, I had worked with a caseworker from Intensive Child & Family Services, attached to Lynwood Charlton Centre, who conducted home visits to observe the family situation and offer advise on how to offset critical situations regarding my granddaughter’s outbursts. These home visits typically span one per week for three to six months depending on the severity of the child’s behaviour. When it was ascertained that her behaviour could not be controlled by reasonable methods, and that a more intense programme was required, I was advised to request registration for my granddaughter into Lynwood Charlton Residential Care.

Approximately four months later, after being interviewed by a Social Worker from Lynwood, I was advised my granddaughter would be accepted into the program and begin a Behavior Management Plan. As of now, she attends five days a week: Monday through Friday, and comes home Friday afternoon. Weekends are tense to say the least as I am not sure when she is going to have an outburst and how uncontrollable she will become. I am writing this post on a Saturday after experiencing one of her screaming tantrums which began over something extremely minor and escalated until I felt unsafe in her presence. Although I am encouraged to call Lynwood when her behavior begins, there is not much I can do except wait it out.

Although her behaviour is trying, I am optimistic that upon completion of the programme, my granddaughter’s behaviour will be more controlled and controllable. The program works in three phrases: three months full-time when she attends Lynwood from Monday thru Friday, three months part-time when she will attend only three days a week, and finally, three months when she is in residence only two days per week. During these nine months she will become involved in various programs designed for her specific behavior, while I, as the parent, will participate in parenting and family programs to aid in my understanding of her outbursts and how to control them. I am finding there is a lot of communication between myself and the primary and social workers who are overseeing my grandaughter’s case. I am kept well-informed of what is happening between her and the staff, the programs she is enrolled in, the outings she enjoys, and her behaviour during all of these. The staff’s emphasis is on returning her home with the ability to control her emotions in a more positive way and with a less disruptive attitude.

If you would like information regarding the Lynwood Charlton Centre please call 905-389-1361, or visit their site at www.lynwoodcharlton.ca

If you live for any particular length of time with a challenging child it’s easy to become acclimatized by their behavior and not realize the seriousness associated with the disability. So,  if you feel “worn out” or threatened by a challenged child, don’t hesitate to call Lynwood or Contact Hamilton for Children’s and Development Services at 905-570-8888 or email: info@contacthamilton.ca, 

UPDATE:

My youngest mentally disabled grandson began a nine-month program at Lynwood Charlton residential care centre yesterday where, for the first three months, he will live full-time Monday through Friday, coming home for the weekends. After filling out application forms, having intake interviews, and attending appropriate meetings, the day finally arrived to pack up his things and cart them over to the centre.

My youngest granddaughter is still registered there and half-way through the program, but saying goodbye to my grandson and leaving him was a completely different experience for me than when I cheerfully waved goodbye to my granddaughter who was slowly killing me with years of continuous raging outbursts and screaming fits. Although she is now at the centre only two days per week, during her enrollment she has been receiving behaviour modification strategies, while I bask in the much-needed break from her anger and controlling behaviour.

Despite saying a thousand “I love you’s” to my grandson, I felt tears pricking my eyes as I looked at his sad little face and turned to leave. He looked so small and vulnerable as he whispered, “Well, if you love me that much, why are you leaving me here?” It was like the first day of kindergarten all over again!

My consolation is that the program will benefit him greatly, especially in the areas of anxiety and aggression. Right now he is barely able to communicate with adults. Whenever an adult comes to the house or speaks to him, he curls up in a ball and pulls his hood over his face and draws the strings so tight all you can see is his nose sticking out the tiny hole. I have often encouraged him to wear clothing without hoods, but trying to pry his favourite hoodie from his clutches (at least let me wash it!) causes severe anxiety; I guess it’s like a security blanket to him.

I left him there at two in the afternoon and by eight thirty was on the phone calling the staff to see how he was, so when my call went to voicemail, I instantly entered panic mode wondering if he had run away and the reason the phone went unanswered was because all the staff were scouring the surroundings trying to hunt him down! I imagined him lost and hungry, and crying for me as he pulled his hoodie over his face and called my name in despair!

Of course, that wasn’t the case at all, I had just called at a busy time, and when a staff member returned my call she let me know he had had a very good evening and was settling in nicely. Phew!