Province counts its pennies rather than support families
TheStar.com – Opinion – Province counts its pennies rather than support families: Plan to cut funding for ‘kinship families’ who are raising children cruel and short-sighted
November 25, 2008. Bonnie Buxton
At Queen’s Park on Nov. 4, grandparents and grandchildren looked on as 52 Liberal MPPs defeated a motion by NDP member Paul Miller. The motion asked that the government cancel a recent directive cutting off “Temporary Care Assistance” funding to grandparents raising grandchildren.
I’m among the affected grandparents, and this is not how I expected to spend my sunset years.
In June 2003, my husband Brian Philcox and I returned home, after a four-week trip to Australia and New Zealand, to find two little kids, aged 2 and 3, in soggy diapers, crying.
Our older daughter had been house-sitting for us. While we were away, our younger daughter – the children’s 22-year-old mother – dropped them off for a weekend and never returned. Emotionally drained from years of abuse by their father, she had embarked on a new relationship and seemed to have lost all interest in her kids.
Her tiny children were devastated that Mommy had abandoned them. Our friends asked why we didn’t force their mother to be responsible. But she is adopted, and has struggled lifelong with learning problems and poor judgment resulting from prenatal exposure to alcohol – fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). She was in no condition to look after them.
By September, Brian and I recognized that she wasn’t interested in or capable of parenting full-time. As adoptive parents ourselves, we had experienced the traumatic effects of moving children from home to home. We couldn’t bear the thought of losing our grandchildren to “the system” and wanted them to continue to have contact with their mother. Despite her problems, they loved and missed her. She was pleased to give us custody. It was far easier for her to deal with her two pit bull terriers than two preschoolers with minds of their own.
Suddenly our empty nest had become full. Our 3-year-old grandson got the coat room; our 2-year-old granddaughter took over our dressing room; our yard became full of toys and we filled up two fridges and a deep freeze.
And so, at age 63 and 66, we joined those 25,000 Canadian families in which grandparents are raising grandchildren. Since that time, we’ve met many other “kinship families” – in which aunts, uncles or step-parents are raising children.
Almost always, the children’s biological parents have mental disorders or are addicted to alcohol or drugs. Sometimes the birth mothers are dead. In many cases, the children have been permanently damaged by their birth mothers’ alcohol use in pregnancy.
I’m now 68, my husband 71, and our grandchildren present daily challenges. Our handsome brown-eyed grandson, now 9, has been diagnosed with learning and behaviour problems and will require special education throughout school. At 7, our bright, exuberant, red-headed granddaughter needs frequent reminders that she does not run this household. They see their mother frequently but she’s always relieved to hand them back to us.
Mornings are a crazy marathon – trying to get both grandchildren up, dressed, lunches made and finally youngsters off to school. Schools are far more demanding than when our daughters were little. We’re so exhausted that we generally go to bed as soon as the grandkids are asleep. Our friends think we’re insane but we’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Like many seniors, we’ve had to deal with health issues. In 2004, I was treated for breast cancer. In 2006, Brian had a quadruple bypass. This past February, I had a seizure caused by a prescription drug and the Ministry of Transport “temporarily” suspended my driver’s licence. I’m still trying to get it reinstated. Currently Brian has to drive the kids to and from all of their activities – some in two different places at the same time.
We have been helped by subsidized child care through Toronto Children’s Services and now need it only after school for our granddaughter, in second grade. We’ve also received a “Temporary Care Assistance” (TCA) of $419 per month through the same agency, funded by the provincial government – a total of $5,028 annually. Their mother receives Ontario Disability Support – if they lived with her instead of us, she would receive a similar amount for their care.
That monthly $419 does not go very far. We work hard to give these children a stable, loving, middle-class home – ordinary except that we have grey hair, wrinkles and live on retirement income. They’re healthy eaters and quickly wear out clothing and shoes. We attempt to burn up their energy with Cubs, Brownies, swim team and summer day camps – all of which are costly.
A foster home for our grandchildren would cost the taxpayers more than $25,000 per year. The taxpayers would also be footing the bill for Children’s Aid Society staff and the children’s clothing. I estimate that in the past 5 1/2 years, my husband and I have saved the Ontario government well over $125,000 by keeping the kids out of CAS. Now our monthly $419 is about to get cut off.
Madeleine Meilleur, minister of community and social services, has issued a directive to Ontario communities to cut off TCA to the 5,100 grandparents and kinship families across the province who have been receiving this funding. 5,644 children will be affected and this move will save the government about $16.5 million annually. Families in Ottawa and Hamilton have already been cut off.
Meilleur suggests that if we are really poor, we can apply for Ontario Works (i.e. welfare) – an insult to every grandparent or extended family member in this situation.
If we kinship families reacted to the Liberal cut by handing the children over to the nearest Children’s Aid Society, the taxpayers would have to pay five times as much as they do now – more than $1,000 per month per child, and even more if the child has learning or behaviour problems.
This move would cost the government about $67 million more annually than they currently pay us, but the Liberals know that we are bound to these children by love, and that we will do nothing to hurt them.
The McGuinty government seems unaware that the approximately $16.5 million paid annually to grandparents and kinfolk are merely lines in a ledger. This money does not go outside the province or languish in bank accounts, but is recycled many times over in the Ontario economy. TCA is immediately spent for groceries and clothing – thus helping the struggling retail sector and resurfacing over and over in provincial tax revenues – exactly what is needed in a recession.
TCA is an investment in the poorest among us – children whose biological parents cannot or will not look after them. The Liberals behaved shamefully on Nov. 4, and this grandmother won’t forget it.
Bonnie Buxton is a journalist and co-founder of the FASworld Alliance.