When Sharon Norris was first told she would have to take care of her five-month-old granddaughter she panicked.
“I was overwhelmed. I was scared. But you just have to do it.”
Tayla was taken off her mother as she could no longer look after her – partially due to a learning difficulty.
“I felt the same as a lot of grandparents do when their grandkids are handed to them. You know you have to do your best. That’s all that counts.”
It had been 20 years since Sharon had looked after her own children but she took the job on like thousands of others across the country.
She is now the local coordinator for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren – an organisation dedicated to supporting families which find themselves in a situation where a grandparent becomes a primary caregiver.
Nationally, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren has had an increase in membership, from 3346 member families in 2016 to 5241 in 2020.
These grandparents are raising more than 12,000 children.
In Nelson, Sharon says they support more than 90 families with some grandparents who are in their 80s looking after teenagers.
Tayla is now 14 and Sharon says that she has become a “beacon of light” in her own life. Tayla calls Sharon ‘mum’.
“I’ve been through some hard times and she has been the light of my life,” says Sharon. “She has kept me going in hard times.”
Tayla wakes up every morning at 5.15am so she can get a ride with Sharon to school in Richmond, where she works.
Tayla is then dropped off at her great grandmother’s house until school starts. “It’s a routine that works,” says Sharon.
Tayla enjoys horse riding and art, which she says relaxes her.
“She is just wonderful,” says Sharon. “She is very resilient.”
However, Sharon laments the difficulties that many grandparents suffer when taking on their grandchildren.
“We want to let them know that they are not alone. A lot of these grandparents have kids come to them in the middle of the night. Their parents might have been drug addicts. There are a lot of different scenarios.”
Sharon says the expectation put on grandparents is huge.
“The number of times you hear ‘you are a grandparent, so you have to do it’. I think it’s an expectation that that is their role in life.”
Sharon helps people navigate that challenge by liaising with lawyers and Work and Income where needed.
“Grandparents sort of slip through the gaps.”
That includes trying to access funding to support them.
Often a child is on a ‘Unsupported Child Benefit’ which pays them a set amount for their needs.
However, many grandparents rely only on superannuation for income.
“If you have only got that income, you haven’t really got the ability to give what other families can provide. Nobody has any idea how tough it is.”
Sharon wants to let people in the region know that there is help in the community and implores anyone to reach out for support on [email protected] or 5486710.