Features | Seniors: Grand-parenting

Kinship families often lacking support

Grandparents often struggle economically and psychologically when trying to care for grandchildren they are forced to raise, according to organizations that provide help to the caregivers.

Cangrands, a not-for-profit organization which provides support to such “kinship families,” estimates that a total of 62,500 children are being raised by kin in Canada.

Linda Turner, a representative from the Montreal chapter of Cangrands, emphasized the lack of resources available to grandparents who have taken on often as many as three children.

“There’s no support. Grandparents are basically on their own and have to fend for themselves,” said Turner.

Without federal subsidies, raising children in retirement can stress guardians’ finances, as many have exhausted their savings and the equity in their homes, and are forced to work well past the age of legal retirement to make ends meet.

In October 2008, the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services cut off provincial support for kinship families amounting to approximately $231 per child, impacting thousands of elderly couples.

However, Quebec, along with a few other provinces, has never subsidized these families.

Turner added that social and psychological support is crucial to the well being of kinship families. Many grandparents, worried they failed as parents, suffer from an isolating feeling that she referred to as the “shame factor.”

“It’s not their fault that their children can’t or will not raise their own children,” she said, adding that birth parents can be ill, incapacitated, deceased, or absent.

The formal adoption process also proposes several obstacles. While many kinship guardians do not consider the adoption process essential, Turner noted that a formal adoption is sometimes helpful.

“If the parents keep coming back and harassing and stirring things up, then the adoption is good.”

But the cost of a formal adoption can weigh so heavily on grandparents, who often face difficult financial situations, that many families elect not to pursue it. In Ontario alone, several couples have mortgaged their homes to pay legal fees.

Without papers proving a formal adoption, grandparents do not often seek financial or emotional aid from support agencies for fear they won’t fit in.

Kathleen Neault, the president of the Parental Association for Adoption in Quebec, acknowledged the absence of kinship guardians seeking help from their support group.

“Grandparents do fall under our association, but I can’t think of any,” she admitted.

This makes the role of organizations like Cangrand crucial, according to Turner. Although Cangrand does not distribute financial aid to kinship families, it provides integral social resources.

“[Cangrand] is very supportive as far as lending a hand, and being a social group. Getting the kids together to let them know they are not alone in this endeavour not being raised by their grandparents,” said Turner. “Grandparents…share ideas, talk to somebody that’s been through the same thing as they have, because unless you’ve walked down that street you would not understand it – we have a common bond and tend to support each other,” Turner said.

Organizations such as Cangrand are growing and emerging in local communities and people like Turner are urging the government to recognize the needs of kinship families.

Nevertheless, Turner remained optimistic about the attention the issue is receiving.

“People are talking about it more,” she said. “It’s not such a shame factor.”