Third generation parenting

Third generation parenting
01 Jul 2005

Social Work Now, Issue 30, pages 27-30

A vivid memory from my practitioner days is the anguish of an older Māori woman deciding whether to commit herself to full-time parenting of a grandchild. This pressure had arisen from a family group conference. Although my client was motivated by a strong sense of duty to take on the caring, other factors were barriers. She was 72 years old, in poor health and looking after a husband with dementia. Her financial resources and support systems were limited. The issues that arose for her in making her decision have much in common with those faced by other ageing kinship carers.

Although any person from within a wide extended family network could undertake kinship care, grandparents are those most frequently involved (Connolly, 2005; Westheimer and Kaplan, 1998). At present, more than 4,000 people nationwide have legal guardianship of grandchildren (Ministry of Social Development, 2004). There will also be formal and informal parenting arrangements in which children reside with their grandparents and other older kin fulltime or for extended periods. The overall number of older people responsible for raising dependent children is unknown, and likely to be very much higher. The raising of children by their grandparents or older relatives is not a new phenomenon. The practice of shared parenting has been long established in Māori custom with atawhai, adoption in which a grandparent takes over the care of a child at an early age (Metge, 1995). The difference in today’s world is the increasing incidence of grandparents parenting and the complex situations needing to be managed within contemporary society. An Australian Government report attributes a recent escalation in the number of custodial grandparents to a marked increase in substance abuse among parents and also points to the significant problems resulting for the children of abusers and their kinship carers (COTA National Seniors, 2003).

This article examines some of the evidence and research around third generation parenting, both international and New Zealand based.

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