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The lack of legal status and the sustained burden of care affect grandparents who are primary caregivers of their grandchildren

du Preez J, Richmond J, Marquis R. Issues affecting Australian grandparents who are primary caregivers of grandchildren: A review Journal of Family Studies. 2017; 23(1): 142-159.

Review question

•    What are issues affecting grandparents who are raising their grandchildren in Australia?

Background

      An informal grandparent-headed family is characterized as one where grandchildren are cared for solely by their grandparents without any input from their biological parents.

      In Australia, research indicates that grandparents are increasingly being driven to become primary caregivers of their grandchildren because of various factors: the parental unemployment, parental death and mental health problems experienced by the biological parents.

      Grandparents who have become the primary caregivers of their grandchildren find their new role challenging.

      This review was conducted to examine research, policies and practices related to caregiving grandparents in the Australian context.

How the review was done

      An extensive literature search was conducted in more than 12 databases, including PscycINFO, Cochrane Library, SCOPUS, Web of Science, and PubMed.

      Key search terms included: grandparents, kinship care, grandparent-headed, informal grandparent carers, community support for grandparents raising grandchildren, and primary caregiving grandparents.

      The search was restricted to studies done in Australia between 2003 and 2014. Eight studies and four government reports met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review.

      No external funding was reported for this review.

What the researchers found

      Five pressing issues affecting grandparent-headed families were identified in the literature: stress, intergenerational conflict, the importance of community support, legal and financial implications, and policies and service frameworks.

      Grandparents who are the informal primary caregivers of their grandchildren were found to experience stress, anxiety, and depression, which is compounded when their grandchildren complex behaviours. These studies also reported increased stress from intergenerational conflict, financial stress, the consuming nature of the caring role and concerns about the future.

      Intergenerational conflict can arise between the grandparents and the biological parents of the children, and between the grandchildren and the grandparents. Research suggests that biological parents often cause instability in the household by spontaneously removing the children and placing them in high-risk environments.

      While studies have reported the benefits of community supports and professional services in addressing the challenges that grandparents face, they were found to be poorly accessible to grandparents.

      Financial challenges due to escalating costs of raising their grandchildren were also found to have negative personal, intergenerational and economic consequences for grandparents.

      In terms of system-level supports, findings suggest that grandparents should be collaboratively included in decision-making and in policy-making processes as they have expertise on what is in the best interest of their grandchildren’s safety and quality of life.

Conclusion

      Five pressing issues affect grandparent-headed families: stress, intergenerational conflict, community support, legal and financial aspects, policies and service frameworks.



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