B.C. launches grandparents' support line
"Hi mom, could you pick up the kids?"
Sharrie Dahl arrived at the address she was given to find that her two grandsons, then aged three and eight, had been left in the care of a drug dealer on the streets of Whalley.
Dahl, a Cloverdale resident, had already been caring for her daughter's then-14-year-old girl since she was a baby.
Two years after picking up her grandsons, Dahl's daughter, who had long struggled with drug addiction, committed suicide.
That was 10 years ago when she said there were few supports for grandparents who find themselves raising their grandchildren.
In Dahl's case, the three grandchildren she raised had to cope with fetal alcohol syndrome and ADHD, as well as loss and grief issues.
"As grandparents it's a whole new journey because you're parenting the second time around."
The provincial government announced a new help line Tuesday in Burnaby for grandparents in such situations who don't know where to turn.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development has committed $100,000 a year for the support phone line and email service, in response to a request from support group Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.
Two social workers will job-share one position and provide information on government services, and help people understand their rights, obligations and options when raising another family member's child, be it a grandchild or otherwise.
"Each family's situation is different," said Children and Family Development Minister Mary McNeil. "But you know what, the need for information, the need for services and resources still matters to all of us.
"If you don't know where to go to find it, it's awfully hard to get there."
McNeil noted that the phone line was established to accommodate grandparents who might not be proficient with searching the Internet for information. "To sometimes hear that warm voice on the end, that makes a huge difference."
The support line will be operated by the Parent Support Services Society of B.C., a Burnaby-based non-profit group which assists people who have taken on a parenting role.
According to the last census data in 2006, there were almost 10,000 grandchildren being raised by their grandparents, said Carol Ross, the society's executive director.
It's a figure the organization believes is growing "just based on the number of people coming to our support groups and the phone calls that mostly I get, so it will be wonderful it won't just have to be me," she said with a laugh of the new help line.
Of grandparents who are caring for grandkids, 85 per cent are doing so because of a crisis situation. Ross said the reasons can range from the death of a parent, a parent being in prison, or physical or mental health of a parent.
She noted that many such children also have higher than average levels of special needs.
In recent years, she said, there's been a shift in direction in which the provincial government looks at extended family to care for a child before considering foster care. "It used to be more the other way around and then grandparents would sometimes really have to fight to have custody of their grandchildren."
The calls Ross receives, that now will likely be taken by the help line staff, are often about family court, child protection, health services, counselling and respite services.
As for Dahl, before there were such services, she learned to advocate for herself and her grandchildren. She's now involved in a number of groups, including as facilitator for the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group at the society.
"We're the parents and the grandparents. And it really does take a village to raise these kids."
• The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Line is at 604-558-4740 or 1-855-474-9777 (toll-free in B.C.) and will operate Monday to Friday, for five hours a day. Emails can be sent to GRGline@parentsupportbc.ca.