As the cost of living continues to rise within high use/need areas like utilities, petrol, groceries and health insurance, there is also an increasing number of dual income households.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the 2016 census told us of couple families, 21.6 per cent had both partners employed full-time. Therefore this translates into more children being placed in childcare centres or are being looked after by grandparents during the traditional nine to five workday as well as weekends and evenings.
In the US, given these recent economic hard times, there has been an upsurge in the number of grandparents pitching in to watch kids while parents work.
According to the US Census, that translates into more than 5.8 million children. In Australia, grandparent care is by far the most common form of informal care with around 40 per cent of grandparents looking after their grandchildren.
A decade ago one-fifth of Australian children aged 12 and under received grandparent care, far outstripping other forms of childcare such as long day care, and before and after school care. In many cases, grandparents feel obligated to do whatever it takes because the parents need to work.
Dr Linda Rhodes who is the former Secretary of Ageing for the state of Pennsylvania, US, reported that when grandparenting switches from optional, carefree visits to a constant duty, such as caring for the grandkids so parents can work to support them, then stress enters the picture.
This stress can then aggravate other aging health conditions of arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. A Harvard University study showed that caregiving grandmothers are at higher risk for heart attacks than those who are afforded the joy of optional visits.
A further study by researchers, Craig and Jenkins, at the UNSW on grandparental childcare in Australia also supports this research that when grandparents do take on regular care, grandparents echo the gender patterns found among parents, namely that it is women who are disproportionately impacted by meeting family care needs.
Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York, conducted a survey of the health of elementary school children in East Harlem who were struggling academically and their grandparent care providers.
The survey found that 39 per cent of the children suffered from depression, 36 per cent had a disorder that involved excessive opposition to and defiance of authority, and 25 per cent had developmental problems. Over half of the grandparents had stress-related illnesses, such as high blood pressure and depression.
Unfortunately, these statistics reflect that more children are living with their grandparents than ever before in contemporary society.
This phenomenon leads to a complex set of issues and outcomes for grandparents and the children for whom they care. Most often parents voluntarily give up custody to the grandparent for a variety of reasons including substance use, abuse and neglect, incarceration, mental health problems, death and becoming a parent at a young age, per Dr Rachel Dunifon of The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University, US.
Further, Dr Dunifon states that grandparents in these families are less likely to be employed, less likely to receive help with childcare and more likely to suffer from physical disabilities and chronic health problems. These grandparents experience higher levels of stress compared with other grandparents and are more likely to face mental health and financial problems.
Children raised by grandparents are more likely to experience challenges as well as they are often living in an unofficial arrangement, they are less likely to qualify for social services and are more likely to experience emotional and behavioural problems. However, grandparents don’t have to do it alone, as there are many support services for grandparents that can help.
Following is a listing of some of those services:
Council on the Ageing NSW (COTA NSW) – 02 9286 3860 - www.cotansw.com.au
The Mirabel Foundation - 03 9527 9422- www.mirabelfoundation.org.au
Carer Gateway - 1800 422 737 - www.carergateway.gov.au
Australian Government Department of Human Services – Grandparent Advisers - 1800 245 965 - www.humanservices.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/grandparent-advisers
Grandparents Victoria – 03 9372 2422 - www.grandparents.com.au
Most importantly, grandparents need to look after their physical and mental health needs in the first instance in order to be able to provide support for their children and grandchildren.