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by Chris Tobin

Christmas is supposed to be a great time for children but indications are that more in South Canterbury are doing it tough due to domestic violence, drugs and increased methamphetamine use.

A clear indication of what is happening in the district comes from Family Works South Canterbury manager Liz Nolan, who says the number of grandparents seeking its assistance to bring up grandchildren has risen from 28 four years ago to 60.

The number is expected to keep growing significantly, as part of a nationwide trend.

Some grandparents are raising as many as three or four children; even some great-grandparents are having to do it.

Until recent years family violence and alcohol were the chief causes of children having to be taken from their parents and raised by grandparents.

Methamphetamine has now been added to that deadly mix.

Jan (not her real name), a grandparent raising a grandchild, said it had become an epidemic.

“We took on our granddaughter when she was one and a-half years old. She had been returned to her parents but it only lasted two days.”

Jan and her husband Craig (not his real name) have been raising their granddaughter, a victim of domestic violence, for three and a-half years.

The dark memories of what the young girl experienced have remained imprinted on her mind.

“She had to sleep in our bed for three months,” Craig said.

“Now, one of us has to lie with her every night before she goes to sleep.”

Jan is in her 50s and Craig his early 60s. They have found their lives being thrown upside down by having to take on a hands-on parenting role at a time when most people their age are starting to kick back.

“It’s been the hardest job I’ve done,” Jan said.

“We were both working fulltime and I had to change my job and we had to give up a social life.”

Until they found out about the support provided by Family Works, they had a difficult time coping with the major change in their lives.

Adding to the stress were difficulties encountered with accessing support and resources available from government agencies.

Jan believed government agencies would need to have more of a focus on the needs of grandparents raising grandchildren and a “dedicated resource” if this area continued to grow.

“Immediate support is needed and people must know what they are entitled to.”

Jan said going into places such as Work and Income was difficult and could be embarrassing.

“When I rang Work and Income I waited four hours and when they spoke they asked, ‘why haven’t you got a client number?’,” she said.

“I didn’t have one, because I’d never had to use their services before.

“I say to people, never go alone. Take an advocate or someone who can help.”

Mrs Nolan said Family Works was in discussions with various government agencies and both local MPs, who had been very supportive of the need to provide greater support.

Family Works provides support with a grandparents’ group meeting once a month.

Zonta Timaru president Kate Flynn said Zonta helped the group also with funding and held events such as craft days, lunches and outings to the movies.

“Zonta is very much behind this group,” Mrs Flynn said.

“As a community we’re very lucky that people are supportive, if they know.”

More information about the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Group is available by ringing Family Works on 688-5029