Thursday, October 14, 2010

It's Not Just About the Money But the Acknowledgement

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Lao-tzu. Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)
My husband and I are raising a grandchild. It's both wonderful and terrifying. But it's also expensive. Freedom 55 becomes Freedom 75.

We're holding onto our house longer than we'd planned, we've cashed in RRSPs and my husband is still working though he turned 65 last year.

But you do it because you can't imagine your grandchild going into foster care. And that's where many of these children from what are referred to as "skipped generation" families, would end up.

I belong to an advocacy group who have been lobbying the government for years, to create a system that is fair and designed to keep children with their families.

It's difficult because once you mention money in relation to a grandchild (niece, nephew, sibling), you're thought of as callous. You want to be paid for something that should be a responsibility. "Feeding off the public trough."

In Ontario the $ 241.00 per month provided comes from social services and you have to jump through hoops to get it. Many of the children are disabled, as is my grandson, and many of the grandparents raising them have medical problems, as do I. But you're terrified that if you raise these issues with the authorities they will take your grandchildren away. And it happens. Believe me.

There was one man in our group who learned that his three grandchildren had just been placed into foster care in a city about 200 km. from here. He was living in a one bedroom apartment and is on worker's comp from a back injury. He contacted our local Children's Aid and was told that he may be eligible to receive a foster care allowance. They gave him $ 100.00 to pay for the gas to go and pick up the three children. That's the last money he ever received.

Once the children arrived he was told that he didn't qualify to become a foster parent because of his back and his apartment was two small. He couldn't yet get the child tax credit because their residence hadn't been established and he didn't have the funds for first and last month rent so that he could get a bigger place. He tried keeping the children in his small apartment, but obviously it didn't meet the criteria of suitable accommodation. The children were eventually taken away.

The government would rather spend thousands of dollars a month to put the children in foster care, than offer help to a family member, where the children feel secure.

There is another woman whose mentally ill daughter lost custody of her five children, when she was institutionalized. This woman applied for custody but was told that because of her age and the size of her small country home she could only have two of them. How does a grandmother make that choice? How do you explain that to the three you will have to give up?

These stories are not unique unfortunately.

And for those "no tax", "no hand outs" groupies, weigh the cost of putting children into foster care against providing a bit of help to keep them with family members. It's staggering.

Yet the most common complaint among us, is the lack of respect or understanding of the situation. None of us are looking for medals or pats on the back. We just want the government to take this and us seriously.

The stories above are from those whose grandchildren were already in the system. Most of us are fortunate enough to have been able to step in before that happened. But the threat is with you everyday.

Carol Goar wrote an excellent piece on Michael Ignatieff's new "family care plan", which would offer help to those taking care of aging relatives. Stephen Harper called it "reckless" and Diane Finley suggested that they simply use their vacation time.

This is the same Diane Finley who earns $ 200,000.00 a year as a cabinet minister plus perks, drives around in a limo with a driver paid for by us, and whose husband is a patronage appointed senator. Both living very well off the "public trough". What would she know about hardship?

But I understand how Harper's and Finley's statements would have impacted those who do struggle to keep their parents out of nursing homes. I've heard similar. Many, many times. It's like a punch in the gut.
... to the 2.7 million Canadians who look after aging parents and infirm spouses, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s “family care plan” offered a sliver of hope. These caregivers save the health-care system $25 billion a year. They sacrifice their savings, job prospects and sometimes their health to keep frail seniors out of hospitals and nursing homes. They get nothing in return — no recognition, no recompense.

Ignatieff’s modest initiative would help only a quarter of them. But its size is not the real measure of its significance. It is an acknowledgement of the work caregivers do. It is a first step in confronting the issues posed by an aging society.
That important first step.

And Goar reminds us of the basic difference between Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff. Harper views helping the aging as "reckless" while spending 16 billion dollars on state of the art fighter jets, that experts say are useless. 10 billion dollars on prisons when the crime rate is down. And more than 1 billion dollars on a summit where expenses included 85,000.00 at a mini-bar.

And Michael Ignatieff is not suggesting that we raise taxes to pay for this. Only ending the ridiculous corporate tax cuts.

As Goar says:
The Liberal plan would not break the bank or jeopardize economic growth. It would give Canadians a choice: A government that spends their money on military hardware and prisons or one that uses their tax dollars to alleviate the strains of an aging society.
I know my choice.


  1. My God!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    How urgent is it that we get women's numbers up in politics?



  2. Emily -- I agree, it is an important first step, and it would be even better if it included caring for family members who aren't elderly.
    I do NOT understand those ridiculous fighter jets or the new prisons. Keeping the prison farms open would have been better. Why close down facilities that may lead to some sort of rehabilitation, not just "farm jobs" (duh) and replace them with mega-prisons? It has been proven, time and again, that working with plants and animals is good for the human soul. No one has ever described mega-prisons as good for anything but lockdown.