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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2005  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/07/2005   
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Contents >> Family and community >> Grandparents raising their grandchildren

Family Functioning: Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren

In 2003, there were 22,500 Australian families in which grandparents were the guardians of their grandchildren (31,100 children aged 0-17 years).


While many grandparents provide temporary child care for grandchildren, some are the guardians of their grandchildren. The reasons grandchildren come to live with their grandparents are varied, but often include trauma of some kind, such as a parent's drug or alcohol abuse, relationship breakdown, mental or physical illness, or death. (endnote 1) (endnote 2) As primary care providers, grandparents assume responsibility for their grandchildren's emotional, structural and financial support. (endnote 1)

Grandparents differ from other adults caring for children. They are often retired or planning retirement, and, compared with younger parents, on average have lower financial resources and less physical stamina. They may face difficulties resuming parenting at an older age, difficulties accessing assistance, or legal costs. (endnote 2) This situation, combined with their own ageing, can result in unexpected social, financial, and health problems. (endnote 3) Questions of how government could better assist grandparents raising grandchildren have begun to be discussed. (endnote 1)


Data sources and definitions

Data about grandparents caring permanently for grandchildren aged 0-17 years are from the ABS 2003 Family Characteristics Survey.

In this article
grandparent families are families in which the guardians of children aged 0-17 years are the grandparents of the children; and other families are families with children aged 0-17 years excluding grandparent families.

In this article a
guardian is a person aged 15 years and over who is reported as being the guardian or main carer of any child aged 0-17 years, regardless of the existence of any legal arrangement.


GRANDPARENT FAMILIES

In 2003, there were 22,500 Australian families in which a grandparent, or grandparents, were the guardians of their grandchildren (31,100 children aged 0-17 years).

...age

As might be expected, grandparents who were the guardians of grandchildren aged 0-17 years were older than parents in other families raising children of the same age. In 61% of grandparent families, the youngest grandparent was aged 55 years and over, and in 39% of grandparent families the youngest was aged 35-54 years. By comparison, in only 1% of other families was the youngest parent aged 55 years and over. The youngest parent in other families tended to be aged 35-54 years (in 62% of other families), or 15-34 years (37%).

Children in grandparent families also tended to be older than children in other families. In 73% of grandparent families the youngest child was aged 5-14 years, and in 15% of grandparent families they were aged 4 years or less. By comparison, in 50% of other families with children the youngest child was aged 5-14 years, and in 38% of other families they were aged 4 years or less.


Grandparents in grandparent families tended to have fewer children in their care than did parents in other families with children. While 89% of grandparent families had one or two children in their care, 11% had three or more children. By comparison, 81% of other families had one or two children in their care, and 19% had three or more.


FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN AGED 0-17 YEARS: AGE-RELATED CHARACTERISTICS - 2003

Grandparent families(a)
Other families(b)
Families
Children in families
Families
Children in families
%
'000
%
'000

Age of younger or lone grandparent/parent
15-34 years
-
-
36.8
1,646.2
35-54 years
38.7
13.1
62.2
2,938.4
55 years and over
61.3
18.0
0.9
26.3
Age of youngest child
0-4 years
*14.8
*6.8
38.3
1,843.4
5-11 years
37.4
11.5
35.8
1,841.8
12-14 years
35.8
9.8
13.7
582.3
15-17 years
*12.1
*3.0
12.2
343.5

'000
'000
'000
'000

Total
22.5
31.1
2,487.2
4,610.9

(a) Families in which the grandparent(s) is/are the guardian(s) of children aged 0-17 years.
(b) All other families with children aged 0-17 years.

Source: Family Characteristics, Australia, June 2003 (ABS cat. no. 4442.0); ABS 2003 Family Characteristics Survey.

...family type

As people grow older they are more likely to have lost a spouse or partner (see Australian Social Trends 2005, Older people with disabilities). Almost half (47%) of grandparent families were lone grandparent families, while 21% of other families with children aged 0-17 years were lone parent families. Most lone grandparents (93%) were lone grandmothers caring for grandchildren.

...income and cost of living

The transition to being a grandparent guardian may be sudden, and associated with high initial costs related to accommodating children (e.g. clothes, bedding, school supplies). (endnote 1) The ongoing cost of caring for children may not have been planned for and may affect the sustainability of the grandparent's retirement income.

Reflecting the age of grandparents, in 2003, one or both grandparents were employed in only one third (34%) of grandparent families. In keeping with this, around two-thirds (63%) of grandparent families relied on a government pension, benefit or allowance as their main source of income.

That said, most older Australians own their home, so the cost of living for these people is not substantially affected by accommodation costs. For example, in 2002-03, for reference persons aged 55 years or over living in private dwellings, 72% owned their home outright, and for those aged 65 years or over the outright ownership rate was 80%. Thus, for households where the reference person was aged 55 years or over (the age group most relevant to grandparent families), the housing costs were lower than for other households. In 2002-03, housing costs for households where the reference person was aged 55 years or over were just over one quarter of the housing costs of other households. As a proportion of gross household income, the housing costs of the older households were 6% - less than half the proportion they were for other households.


In addition, where grandparent families share their dwelling with other adults, accommodation and other joint costs may be shared, and additional income may be available to support both grandparents and children. In 2002-03, one third of lone grandparent families (33%) shared their dwelling with one or more other adults (who were usually related to the grandparent), as did one quarter of couple grandparent families (25%).


FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN AGED 0-17 YEARS: SELECTED CHARACTERISTICS - 2003

Grandparent families(a)
Other families(b)
%
%

Labour force status of grandparents/parents
At least one grandparent/parent employed
33.8
85.0
No grandparent/parent employed
66.2
15.0
Main source of grandparental/parental cash income
Government pension, benefit or allowance
63.0
19.9
Other
37.0
80.1

'000
'000

Total families containing children aged 0-17 years
22.5
2 487.2

(a) Families in which the grandparent(s) is/are the guardian(s) of children aged 0-17 years.
(b) All other families with children aged 0-17 years.

Source: Family Characteristics, Australia, June 2003 (ABS cat. no. 4442.0); ABS 2003 Family Characteristics Survey.


Families with children 0-17 years: area of usual residence - 2003
Graph: Families with children 0-17 years: area of usual residence - 2003

...area of usual residence

Grandparent families tend to live in regional areas, more so than other families. In 2003, a similar proportion of grandparent families lived in the Major Cities of Australia as lived in regional areas of Australia (48% compared with 45%). However, the pattern was different for other families. A substantially greater proportion of other families lived in the Major Cities of Australia (65%) than the proportion that lived in regional areas (33%).


CHILDREN'S CONTACT WITH PARENTS

Where children in grandparent families have parents living elsewhere, they may remain in contact with these parents. In 2003, 28,700 children in grandparent families had a natural parent living elsewhere. Three-quarters (75%) of these children had face-to-face contact with a natural parent at least once a year. Over a third (37%) had face to face contact with a parent fortnightly or more frequently; a quarter (25%) had contact monthly or quarterly; and 12% had contact every six months or once a year. However, a quarter (26%) had little or no face to face contact with a parent (i.e. less than once a year or never).

Children(a) in grandparent families: frequency of face-to-face contact with natural parent(s) - 2003
Graph: Children(a) in grandparent families: frequency of face-to-face contact with natural parent(s) - 2003



ENDNOTES

1 Council on the Ageing (COTA) National Seniors 2003, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren <http://www.facs.gov.au/internet/facsinternet.nsf/VIA/grandparents/$File/GrandparentsRaisingGrandchildrenReport.pdf> accessed 22 June 2005.

2 Parliament of Tasmania Joint Standing Committee on Community Development 2003, Report on issues relating to custodial Grandparents, Report no. 2.

3 Pinson-Millburn, N, Fabian, E, Schlossberg, N, and Pyle, M 1996, 'Grandparents raising grandchildren', Journal of Counseling and Development, vol. 74, iss. 6, pp. 548-554.


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