Grandparents As Parents Again (GAPA) was established by UnitingCare Burnside Hastings Family Support Centre, in partnership with the Port Macquarie Evening Branch of the Country Women’s Association, two years ago in response to community need.
In 2003 there were over 31,000 children under 18 being raised full-time by some 22,000 grandparents. Without the love and support provided by grandparents, these children may have found themselves in the out of home care system.
Paul and Sandra Bickford are typical of the 25 members of the Port Macquarie group. Raising two grandsons after the mother suffered a serious illness and their son was not able to care for his children, Paul and Sandra took on a full time caring role. They wanted to give their grandsons stability and a secure home life. Prior to this, one grandson had been to 12 different primary schools.
"It was a life-changing event but one we couldn’t say no to” said Paul.
“We lost touch with a lot of our friends because our life changed and they no longer had children to care for” said Sandra. “Lots of things were different. We were involved with all aspects of raising children again like taking an active interest in their health and well being, education, sport and hobbies and although this is a stimulating experience for us we are not so young anymore”, she said.
“GAPA has given us new support and we don’t feel socially isolated anymore. GAPA is as important to the children as it is to us. It provides somewhere grandchildren can get together with other children being raised by their grandparents” said Paul.
"Grandparents provide another dimension to a child whose life has been traumatised by strengthening the bond and sense of belonging within families and communities, and helping the child to develop a positive sense of self” said Helen Townsend, coordinator of Hastings Family Support Service.
“As a society we must value and treasure grandparents for the positive contribution they make to families and communities”, said Helen.
Early Stork workshops provide first-time parents with practical financial, relationship, health and nutrition advice and help them prepare for their baby’s arrival. Focused on parents six to 22 weeks pregnant and run on the Mid North Coast in conjunction with Manning Communities for Children, the workshops have proven a helpful way for new parents to establish a strong social network and connect with their community.
Burnside’s Marie Atkinson is responsible for delivering these workshops and feels the workshops offer education and advice in an environment where parents-to-be can share their experiences.
“Our workshops prepare parents to support each member of the family in a time of change. We explore the impact of a baby from a relationship perspective, but also discuss finances and give parents the tools to establish a budget and a savings plan. We also identify steps to take if they get into difficulty” she said.
“We cover both pre and post natal health, including the importance of a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition but most importantly we help build parents’ confidence, enabling them to better engage with their children.”
In the Macarthur region, the focus is on supporting young families. The Happy Young Parents program recently celebrated its first birthday and provides group sessions with an informal structure that includes discussion, craft, guest speakers, mini-training courses and outings.
The program now has a core group of regular participants, with their connections now extending past the group sessions. “Parents have been encouraging each other to attend community events and meeting informally as friends” said Project Officer, Mariela Albornoz.
“The mini-training courses have been very popular, with eight young parents achieving their Senior First Aid Certificate and five young parents completing a computer skills course”. Burnside provides both transport and childcare to facilitate this.
For Jenny, a previously lonely young mother, Happy Young Parents has provided the chance to make new friends and develop leadership skills. She has enrolled her son in childcare and says “I’m using my spare time to look for a job and I’m looking forward to running scrapbooking workshops for young girls at a local youth centre”.
Sarah is an Australian mother and grandmother of Pacific Islander background who has lived in the Campbelltown area of Sydney for 15 years.
Sarah has faced many challenges in her life and has overcome most of them on her own. For some time she had been living alone, out of contact with her children, grandchildren and ex-partner with whom she had a volatile relationship. Sadly, alcohol and gambling had been a big part of her life. Sarah’s problems had escalated and the police became involved on more than one occasion.
Sarah was referred to Unifam’s experienced counsellors who met with her every week over a period of several months. Gradually Sarah started to put back together the pieces of her life. Contact was made again with her children, and meetings and outings were arranged. She then started to look for part-time work and has made changes to her home and her outlook. She has been linked with support services that are helping her manage her drinking and budgeting. In so many ways Sarah has started a new life, a life which now includes her extended family. Her son, daughter-in-law and two granddaughters now share a townhouse with her.
Relationships are being transformed and strengthened with Sarah now having begun a new chapter in her family life.
While the counsellor provided support, guidance and a listening ear, she is adamant that this has been Sarah’s story, challenge and achievement, and that Unifam’s role has been as a witness to one woman’s triumph.
To read more stories like these visit our Because Children Matter website.
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