With over 11,000 families in B.C. headed by primary grandparent caregivers, the Parent Support Services Society of B.C. says the provincial government should provide grandparents with the same financial and social support foster parents receive.
In a petition addressed to Premier Christy Clark, the group demands that grandparents receive the same monthly benefit given to foster parents, along with access to respite, child care and the same training received by foster parents.
Dennis Nkojo, a lawyer and a legal advocate with the Parent Support Services Society, said once grandparents receive legal guardianship of a child — when they legally become a child's primary caregiver — it is very difficult to get financial support from the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Many of them are not financially prepared to raise another child, he said, adding that these children often need more support than the average child because they might have experienced trauma.
Children need special support
Nkojo said that circumstances in which children end up being raised by their grandparents are often tragic.
"All of it is sad because usually the best story will be the parent died — as crazy as that sounds," he said.
In most cases, mental illness, addiction, and incarceration are the reasons why parents give up their children.
Typically, children in these situations end up in foster care, but Nkojo said keeping children in the family is a better solution.
"If kids are in this situation, we're saying, the government is going to be spending on them after all in foster care. Please keep them within family and support them through family."
Ministry: options and programs available
In response, a ministry spokesperson emailed a statement to the CBC which said: "there are a number of specific options and programs available to help provide for the children's care... Caregivers may be eligible for a range of out-of-care supports for the children and youth in their care."
But Nkojo said these programs sometimes fall short, pointing out the extended family program requires parents to request support on behalf of their children.
Parents — at risk themselves for a variety of reasons — might not be able to do so, he said.
Nevertheless, he's hoping the petition will start a conversation.
"We want these kids to thrive. I think that's the objective of government as well.
With files from The Early Edition.
To hear the segment, listen to the audio labelled: We need more support for our kids, say grandparent caregivers