Grandparents raising grandchildren often need financial help

June is Seniors Month

June 8, 2007 10:58 AM

Bill 210 includes changes to kinship care, including increasing the amount grandparents, and other extended family caregivers, receive.

When the Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP), a national organization based in downtown Toronto, was informed the provincial government was going to financially compensate grandparents, they endorsed the new bill.

They, like those dozens of grandparents, were at the press conference to hear the details of the changes.

“The devil,” said Judy Cutler, director of government relations with CARP, “is in the details.”

And those details were disappointing, according to CARP and some grandparents.

The grandparents at the press conference, many of whom are raising grandchildren on their public pensions and the $210 a month the government provides, learned that only children in the care of the Children’s Aid Society and deemed in need of protection may receive the same amount of money as those who foster children.

“It’s outrageous,” Cutler said. “It was a slap in the face.”

It takes about $164,000 to raise a child up to the age 18. People who provide foster care receive about $900 a month, said Scarborough East MPP Mary Anne Chambers, the Minister of Children and Youth Services.

“It’s not only (seniors) who suffer, kids are, too,” Cutler said.

Grandparents, and the some organizations that support them, don’t think that’s right.

“Most of these kids are damaged kids,” said Annex resident Joan Louise Brooks, who raised two of her grandchildren and is the president of GRAND (Grandparents Requesting Access and Dignity), which has chapters across the country.

“These politicians look at the money. Look at how much money we are saving the taxpayer (by raising grandchildren rather than putting them in foster care). Some grandparents need a little bit of help. For God’s sake, help them.”

But Chambers said the bottom line is that everything has a cost and the taxpayer can only fund so much.

She said the amendment is good news and it allows the government to “help where the need is great. We have enhanced support to grandparents and extended family members who look after children deemed to be in need of protection.”

But Brooks and other grandparents argued that they too require help, particularly as the children get older and need to be involved in sports and other activities to keep them out of trouble.

Lynn Cunningham’s goal is to keep her step-grandson out of the jail.

Cunningham is raising her ex-husband’s grandson, Andrew, 16, who has fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), on her own.

The Toronto Island resident said Andrew has the mental capacity of a eight-year-old. It means that while he goes to school with his peers, his judgment and decision-making ability is years younger and it is unlikely he will ever have the necessary life skills to live on his own.

“He’s not going to be moving out and going to the UofT (University of Toronto) at 18. Chances of post-secondary education is non-existent.”

For Cunningham, her desire is to keep Andrew out of trouble and give him a quality of life he deserves for the rest of his life. And at 57, Cunningham knows she has to plan for years of care for Andrew after she has died.

“A concern for me … is having enough money in my estate to ensure that he is able to live a good life. The cost of raising him has had a significant impact on my ability to save.”

Cunningham recently returned to her job after being on long-term disability after suffering a breakdown.

She was in debt from rescuing Andrew at 18 months from the Children’s Aid Society when he was taken away from his alcoholic mother, who died of alcohol complications in 2002.

She also had the cost of selling her house in order to by a bigger one to accommodate Andrew, plus all the costs of getting a special needs child help.

Esme Fuller-Thomson, a Bloor West Village resident and assistant professor in the faculty of social work at the University of Toronto in the Annex, did a study looking at the number of grandparents raising grandchildren.

Fuller-Thomson said poverty is indeed the main issue grandparents raising grandchildren face.

While Canada has less extreme poverty than the U.S., financial instability is an issue wherever grandparents live.

There are “few options,” Fuller-Thomson said. “It’s terribly worrisome.”

According to Fuller-Thomson’s study, about 30 per cent of so-called ‘skipped’ generation households, where grandparents are raising their grandchildren without a parent in the home, survive on less than $15,000 a year. The median grandparent-led household income was $23,297, with the average at about $31,000.

She gave the example of a grandparent in her early 50s, leaving her job because she can’t find day care for her grandchild. The grandmother raises the grandchild for the next few years and then tries to get back into the workplace.

“The next 20 years look really bleak.”

Some links that might be helpful


CANGRANDS” W5 program”

Ask Lindsay Moir:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Question & Answer:

Many of you will already know of my interest in “Grandparent Groups” and how they can provide a powerful resource to families of exceptional children. I have attended one such group several times at the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center in Phoenix Arizona and have been impressed how SARRC has found a role for grandparents and utilizes their interest and life experiences to provide the skills to allow them to support their special education grandchild, to be a support to their own children who are stressed trying to cope with parenting an exceptional child, and volunteering in mentoring programs, fundraising and other aspects of SARRC to help autistic children in general.

Inspired by this group, I am working with Autism Ontario’s London Chapter to begin such a group here. If we are successful, it could serve as a model to educate and utilize grandparents across the province, for any exceptionality. I will give you time-to-time updates on our progress.

Last summer I was invited to do a workshop at Keswick, Ontario for the CANGRANDS group. Before, during and after my presentation I had the opportunity to interact with these incredible people. To learn more about CANGRANDS visit their website (

Did you know that more than 55,000 Ontario children, many with special needs’ are being raised by kinship “parents” — usually a grandma living on a pension. Their own children are often unable to care for these young kids due to alcohol, drugs or mental health issues, and the grandparents step in to look after them, with minimal government support.

Last night, the TV program W5 ran an excellent show called “Parents Again” which outlined the plight of these grandparents … and their joy and committment to their grandchildren. You can see this program in its entireity by clicking on “Parents Again” Part 1 & 2 at . The show really captures the angst and stress of raising exceptional children … with the added twist that the parenting is being done by seniors.

I realy think that this video should be required viewing for all of us involved in the special education field, as well as every Community College student in the Human Services Division… maybe even our MPPs?

On a positive note, the Ontario government has recently changed the laws and grandparents can be eligible for more support, on a more consistent basis. The Minister has now promised that they will not have to relinquish custody of their grandchild in order to became eligible for a funding review — still a few wrinkles to be ironed out? … but progress none the less!

I have become increasingly aware of how many grandparents attend my workshops across the province, either to support the Mom or Dad by attending with them, or because they are actively involved in the raising of an exceptional grandchild. I sense they are seeking a role, and have the time, life experience and distance from the day-to-day challenges of raising a special needs child, to become a key piece of the puzzle.

Attention educators, community professionals, legislators — THE GRANDPARENTS ARE COMING!! THE GRANDPARENTS ARE COMING!! — and they are a force to be reckoned with!

Lindsay Moir retired from the Ministry of Education in 1997 and has been assisting agencies, associations and parents in obtaining appropriate special education services for exceptional pupils.

Family Net welcomes your questions about special education in Ontario.

E-mail Lindsay at He will answer as many questions as possible.