Address to the Gold Coast Grandchildren and Grandparents’ Society
My parliamentary colleagues, Margaret May (Federal Member for McPherson), Kay Elson, Federal Member for Forde,
Val French, Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Older People,
Maree Newman, Chairperson Grandchildren and Grandparents Society Gold Coast and committee members
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you Margaret (May) for your introduction.
And thank you to the Grandchildren and Grandparent’s Society Gold Coast and the Council of Grandparents in Queensland for inviting me to speak today at this important forum.
As the Federal Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, my job is to focus on the needs of children and young people and to put their interests at the front of everyone’s minds.
Let me give you an idea of what I’m trying to achieve as part of the bigger picture.
Soon after becoming the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, I spoke about the need for a national vision for children and an agreed agenda for action, to help every child get the best possible start in life.
As you know, not every child in Australia is doing well. There are some worrying trends:
- Australians are wealthier than they have ever been. With wealth has come capacity to choose. As a society we are choosing to have fewer children and to end relationships sooner. We now see 2 in every 5 marriages break up.
- We know more about the human body than ever before. But the incidence in young children of asthma, insulin dependent diabetes and eating disorders are on the rise.
- Children spend long hours on the computer and in front of the TV. Childhood obesity and poor physical fitness are at record highs.
- There has been a revolution in the quality of child care in the past 5 years. But are we giving our children the best start we can?
- Who are our children’s role models? Despite improvements in family incomes, too many children are still growing up in families where parents are not working.
- In a wealthy, modern society, we still have 20,000 cases of child abuse each year and many others still go unreported.
- The picture for Indigenous children is still unacceptable, with disproportionate numbers in care and with health problems.
- For young people, the levels of youth suicide, mental illness and drug dependence are of concern.
In modern day Australia this situation is simply not good enough.
I believe if we ‘invest’ more in the early years now, we’ll prevent some of these problems happening in the first place.
So my commitment to a national childhood agenda stems from my passionate belief in the importance of children’s early years.
More and more, grandparents are having an increasing role in their grandchildren’s life.
Whether that is in the role of informal child care or whether they have full custody of grandchildren, there is a clear need for grandparents to be better supported.
I know grandparents raising grandchildren face many challenges, I’m sure you’d agree that, in the end, it’s the child’s interests we all have at heart.
In February this year, I was very pleased to announce $150,000 from the Coalition Government for the COTA National Seniors Grandparents as Carers Forums.
The announcement of these forums has been very well received and I have had many calls to my office from the public and Members of Parliament asking how they can be involved.
The journalist who initially wrote the story said that it received the biggest response he’d had for a long time.
Obviously there is a great need for these forums and I am pleased to have been able to fund it on behalf of the Coalition Government.
The forums will serve to gather information from grandparents who care for their grandchildren and to identify ways of better supporting them in their caring role.
The forums will also provide an opportunity for grandparents to share their experiences with other grandparents.
I am interested in a number of key issues, particularly;
- what existing support mechanisms and additional support may be required to assist grandparents in their caring role;
- financial and legal issues facing grandparents, particularly when they are full time carers and there are issues with the suitability of their children to have primary care of their children; and,
- informing grandparents about child abuse, or potential abuse of children.
While there is already some Western Australian research done by Kidsafe, nothing like the COTA National Seniors project has been done on this scale in Australia before.
I believe the results will really help us get a much better, national picture of what the different levels of governments and the community can do to help.
We do know that in Australia more and more grandparents are caring for their grandchildren full-time.
I am aware that many like Harvey Bone here today currently have care responsibility for your grandchildren and yet are not receiving appropriate support.
I acknowledge not much has been done to support grandparents in this situation especially when it comes to income support, respite care and information and advice about parenting strategies.
I am also aware that some grandparents have to deal with custody disputes and guardianship battles in the courts.
Sadly, as well, some of the children involved are ill, traumatised or have behavioural problems.
It is these and other issues that you are covering today and I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of this forum, later on.
Because I think it’s really important to hear from grandparents like you, about what concerns you and what kinds of support you really need.
I want to congratulate the Grandchildren and Grandparent’s Society Gold Coast and the Queensland Council of Grandparents for your efforts, your dedication and commitment.
And thank you to the Council of Grandparents in Queensland for inviting me to speak today at this important forum
Thank you for listening to me speak today.
I hope you continue to have a stimulating and productive day.