The number of children being raised by grandparents is on the rise in Canada. The latest 2016 national census puts the number at 32,505 or 0.6 per cent of all children living in households, up from 30,005 in 2011.
Louise Hutchison and Dave Sharp are Airdrie grandparents raising their three young granddaughters.
“There are a lot more of us that are out there and I think it’s good for people to understand that there are grandparents stepping up to raise these children when the parents are not there and available to raise them,” Hutchison said. “There’s not a lot of support for grandparents out there. It’s definitely a difficult situation.”
Hutchison and Sharp gained custody of their granddaughters in 2014 after their daughter was arrested for impaired driving.
“We were contacted by the police and asked to pick our grandchildren up at the police station. Child and Family Services came the next day and they recommended we apply to the courts for guardianship of the grandchildren,” Hutchison said. “We haven’t actually seen our daughter since Nov. 8, 2014. We’ve been raising the three girls ever since.”
Hutchison said there are many challenges she and her husband face as they try to explain to three young girls why their mother is not around. The girls are now nine, six and almost four years of age and Hutchison said she wishes there was more support available.
“There’s not a lot of support. We don’t fall into a classification like foster families or that (sort of thing). We’re in sort of an in between area,” she said. “We’re actually a younger generation of grandparents that are now raising grandchildren so we don’t fit into the parents’ and we don’t fit in to the grandparents’ (groups) so it’s a bit difficult from a social aspect. We become quite isolated in our experience and what we’re dealing with.
“The biggest challenges are helping to make sure the children overcome the circumstances they are in and to provide the support for them as well. I think it would be very good if the government stepped forward and helped grandparents a little bit more in these circumstances.”
Hutchison said she and Sharp sought counselling for the children soon after taking custody, adding she also needed counselling herself.
“I guess part of it is that I’ve come to terms (with it), in a sense, because there’s not really a lot you can do when (your children) come of age. We can’t really influence the people they are with or the things they will do, so there’s a bit of acceptance that has to happen there,” she said. “In the beginning, it was more of a question of ‘where did we go wrong?’ Through the counselling, you come to see that some things are completely out of our hands.”
Hutchison said she understands in some regards she is one of the lucky ones.
“There are some grandparents that are raising grandkids that have it much worse than I – that are actually on pensions, that have minimum income and are dealing with harsher situations where the parents are drug addicts or…they’re actually fighting against the parents to keep the children safe and out of those circumstances,” she said.
There is some support for others in Hutchison’s situation through a grassroots not-for-profit organization called Cangrands Kinship National Support. An Ontario grandmother raising her own granddaughter started the organization. Hutchison said the organization’s website is a great place to find resources and support from others in a similar situation.
“It provides a community of support so grandparents can reach out to one another on that site. It is a unique situation and having the opportunity to reach out to others that are in the same situation is very helpful,” she said.
More information about Cangrands is available at cangrands.com
The 2016 Census is also available online at statcan.gc.ca