Grandparents' struggles to bring up their mokopuna

Grandparents bringing up babies for the second time around say that navigating their way through the welfare system is one of the toughest parts of the job.

"We do struggle with Work and Income. Maybe because we don't know what to ask for, or in a proper way with them," says 63-year-old grandmother Kathleen Samuels.

"They need to really listen to us, we're not there to use and abuse them," she told Three's The Hui."We're really genuine - we're going in there to get things for the children, it's not for us."

Ms Samuels' two grandkids turned up on her doorstep in October 2016, with a police officer.

"They asked, do you want the children or they'll take them into custody to CYFs, so I took them," she said.

"It's been a long, scary journey for me. I really cried when I had to have the kids because I wasn't well myself."

Many of these grandparents or kaumatua are stepping in because they don't want to see their grandchildren or mokopuna go into care.

Social agencies like the Manukau Urban Māori Authority (MUMA) say that they've seen an increase in grandparents or kaumatua seeking their help. Many want help dealing with Work and Income, Housing New Zealand and Oranga Tamariki.

"Work and Income would definitely be probably one of the main issues that our kaumatua and kuia face in terms of paperwork," says MUMA social worker Victoria King.

Often these children come into their grandparents' lives under difficult or tragic circumstances involving family violence, drugs or alcohol.

Kathleen Samuels and her mokopuna.
Kathleen Samuels and her mokopuna. Photo credit: The Hui

Rima Herbert, 68, took in his daughter's four kids after he found out that she and her partner were using methamphetamine. They range in age from two to nine years old.

"We were only going to have them for one year, that was in 2013. Four years later we still got them and I won't give them back, my wife won't give them back until the parents are at a level where they can care for their children, and definitely off the drugs," he says.

Finding suitable accommodation is another obstacle for these grandparents to overcome. With many grandparents living in small units, agencies are seeing a demand for bigger houses to cater for their expanding whanau.

Many grandparents rely on the Unsupported Child's Benefit (UCB), which is a weekly payment which helps carers supporting a child or young person whose parents can't care for them because of a family breakdown.

Kaumatua can get up to $200 per child, per week from the UCB. But this help for many doesn't stretch far enough to cover food costs.

Auckland City Mission has noticed an increased demand for elderly people accessing their food bank service.

"One of the things that we hear constantly is that food becomes that discretionary item - so that on a limited budget… food is the last thing that is bought," says Mission general manager of social services Helen Robinson.

"It becomes truly discretionary where rent might not be or transport or medical care.

"What is going on in the reality of families' lives that grandparents are needing to step in in this way?"

Many grandparents are retired, on fixed incomes and face extra demands on their finances when they take their grandchildren in.

"Most of our mokopuna that do come into the care of our grandparents generally come with the clothes on their back or a bag of clothes, and that's pretty much it," says Ms King.

"Our grandparents are having to find how to clothe them, how to feed them, where do they sleep? And all of those things can impact on not just the children but also the grandparents and where do they go to find all those things?"

But for some, parenting the second time around has given them a whole new lease on life.

"I'm fitter than these young'uns. I'm 75 now, still a girl, but I feel 21," says Huntly grandmother Wai Kaihe.

Wai legally adopted her 10-year-old grand-daughter when she wasn't even a year old.

"She always says child comes first. I love that, I love her, I just wish I could repay her back for what she done for me," says Nesha Kaihe.

Ms Kaihe's son died of a heart attack at 30, but left clear instructions for who would look after his baby if anything happened to him.

"He said, 'There's only one place for my girl and that's with my mum,'" says Wai.

The Hui