Grandparents raising P.E.I. children

Maureen Coulter comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 25, 2016

Joan Newell, left, and Jean Torok are two Island grandmothers who took their grandchildren in and raised them from a young age. Both seniors wish they had more financial support in raising them.

©MAUREEN COULTER/THE GUARDIAN

Jean Torok worries constantly about what will happen to her grandchildren when she's no longer around to care for them.

Torok, 77, of Bedeque has permanent custody of the three young women, all in their 20s, and has raised them since they were very young. The three girls are intellectuality disabled.

"It scares me because they could end up on the streets," Torok said Tuesday during a legislative standing committee meeting on health and wellness.

"It's just constant stress and it doesn't help with my medical — the problems that I have — to be worrying, but I can't help but worry because I love them and I don't want anything to happen to them."

Her granddaughters are on social assistance to help provide a little more income with her pension.

She says the young women are earnest in looking for work but struggle to find employers who will hire people with a disability.

"They need constant care in the sense that they always need to have an adult around them to sustain them."

Joan Newell of Summerside also presented at the standing committee, which was looking at the so-called "skip-generation" — grandparents who are raising their children's children — and the role that family and human services provide. Grandparents can apply for social assistance, childcare subsidy and the universal child care benefit when caring for a grandchild.

Newell took her granddaughters in after her daughter died suddenly and the father, who struggled with addictions, said he could not parent the two young girls.

She was evicted from her seniors' home, as she was not allowed to have children present, and has been raising her now teenage granddaughters on her pension. She says the government needs to have more supports in place for grandparents in situations like hers.

"Each one of us are in the same boat," said Newell. "We are not getting help from anywhere. There is none. They don't recognize us."

Pam MacKinnon, co-facilitator of Grandparents Support Group that presented to the committee, said grandparents who are primary caregivers should receive some medical benefits and living allowances so they are not penny pinching to provide the basic necessities for their grandchildren.

"They are not asking to be rich people with these children. They are asking for a little bit of help."

The committee will take the information presented Tuesday to make recommendations to the minister, legislature and department.

"I think your message was loud and clear," said Kathleen Casey, committee member. "We are going to have a real wholesale discussion on what we need to do. And we need to do something."