Catch 22 for those who help grandkids due to family drug addiction


Many grandparents who intervene to care for their grandchildren because of their children’s drug addiction are being put in a Catch 22 situation by the State.

New research has found that if the grandparents step in before a legal care order is made, child protection services will not grant them a foster care allowance.

The study has warned that the provision of integrated services to these families by child care services and addiction services may worsen further with the removal of child protection services into a new body outside the HSE.

The research was conducted by Megan O’Leary of the National Family Support Network and Shane Butler, associate professor of social policy at Trinity College Dublin. The study, published in the Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, found that grandparents intervene because they are “no longer able to tolerate the level of neglect” by their own drug-addicted children.

However, some of those faced additional “strain and stress” from the response of State services supposed to help them.

“In the main, it appeared that if grandparents stepped in to care for their grandchildren before these children were legally taken into the care, the child protection system would refuse to act retrospectively and seek a care order for the children,” said the report. “This meant, of course, that these grandparents could not be approved as family carers or become eligible for the foster care allowance.”

The research said these grandparents were put in a Catch 22 situation by social workers.

“The argument put to grandparents was that (a) there was no necessity to take children into care if they were already being adequately cared for by their grandparents; (b) this necessity would only arise should their grandparents abandon them to the care of the state; and (c) grandparents who abandoned their children in this way would automatically be deemed unfit to be approved as official foster carers.”

The research added: “Research participants were, understandably, angered by the Catch 22 nature of this logic, which was seen as a bureaucratic ruse to save money, based on the idea that grandparents should care for their grandchildren out of a sense of moral obligation.”

Of the 10 families surveyed, three were in receipt of no state support payment, four got the guardian’s payment of €161, and three received the foster carer allowance of between €312-€399.

The report said two of the four people in receipt of the guardian’s allowance had been caring full-time for their grandchildren for a period of 10 years each before becoming aware the payment was available.

The grandparents complained of “professional discourtesy and lack of empathy”.

The report said “quite profound distress” experienced by at least some of the grandparents surveyed was “not alleviated” by official health and social service responses. It said that, since they carried out the research, child protection services had been transferred out of the HSE into the Child and Family Agency, so addiction service and child services are now provided by two separate bureaucracies, bringing with it the risk children of drug-using parents may fall between the two stools.

Case studies

  • “I had got sterilised after my last unexpected pregnancy and the last thing in the world I wanted was to rear my grandchildren.” (Kim)
  • “It was pressure in the beginning. At first I thought ‘no, why should I be subject to it?’ But then again when I started looking at the children, I thought ‘who am I to make this decision?’ So I said I have to try it.” (Luke)
  • “The HSE gave me a phonecall one morning from work, and when I came home they had the two children in my sitting room with a carrier bag, and it was take them for three months or they were going into care... it was a shock.” (Anna)
  • “They [the grandchildren] were like animals eating off the floor. I was nearly crying when I was looking at them. I said to myself ‘it’s not their fault’. It took me about a week to get them used to a spoon and a fork.” (Jim)
  • “She [older grandchild] had to grow up too quick. She used to say to me: ‘I changed Patrick’s nappy for him last night and gave him his bottle.” (Jessica)
  • “I’ve bills here that I couldn’t pay. You know what I mean, the money was going on the kids and they were coming first anyway. I said they can knock the electricity off; I don’t care.” (Emer)
  • “Now, I have a boyfriend. He is the best part of my life, but he has the smallest part of my life because the children are my life.” (Nora)
  • “We had an addict [my daughter] banging the door down — ‘I want to see my fucking kids’. She left me on the sofa a year and a half ago with broken ribs. So it’s not ‘Ah Kim took her two grandkids, isn’t she great’. Nobody knows what goes on behind those closed doors.” (Kim)
  • “I did actually take an overdose one night but it wasn’t to kill myself; it was to get a night’s sleep. I came out here and I stood and I was taking one sleeping tablet and I said ‘Sure one is no good’; and just something took over, and I took them all and I ended up in hospital.” (Nora)
  • “I have rang the Samaritans so many times you know of feeling suicidal, wanting to kill myself because of the fact that, you know, I didn’t know what to do anymore. I didn’t know where to turn.” (Sarah)
  • “My wife tried to kill herself three times. Yeah, caught her in the bed. All the kids were out and she always had the dinner on at five o’clock. I went back to the house. It was very quiet. Something was wrong. I knew straight away. I had to get an ambulance for her.” (Jim)
  • “One of them [social workers] said ‘You took the kids. It’s not our responsibility. It’s your responsibility to look after them.” (Jim)