Raising kids at age 70

Frank, 72, and Geraldine, 76, are raising three young girls who arrived into their care wearing nappies, aged one, two and three.
Frank, 72, and Geraldine, 76, are raising three young girls who arrived into their care wearing nappies, aged one, two and three.

The grey nomad life was almost upon them.

Newly remarried Frank and Geraldine had both nursed former spouses through sickness until death and then found each other.

Both nearing 70, they saved their funds and planned their retirement getaway; the caravan sat in the driveway. Yet this dream was not theirs to have.

A phone call from Tasmania's Child Protection Services changed the course of their older lives.

"Child protection rang up from Hobart and said the kids were not going back to their mum. We had an hour to make our decision about whether to take them on," Frank said. 

The kids in question were his son's children, aged one, two and three. 

You put your life on hold, you re-adjust your lifestyle, you raise the kiddies, and you enjoy it.

Frank, 72

One of the children was in hospital after a boiling water incident, and this event ultimately prompted Frank and Geraldine's life-changing call. 

"There is no way we wanted them in foster care. They would have been split up and we would never have seen them again," he said.

The babies and toddler that came to permanently live with Frank and Geraldine all had serious behavioural, medical, or psychological needs, but Geraldine stressed the children are a welcome part of their lives. 

"They are our reason for living and that is just the way it is. If we ever lost them it would be devastating," she said.

Kin Raising Kids chief executive Frank Tyers wants to see greater government support for grandparent carers.

Kin Raising Kids chief executive Frank Tyers wants to see greater government support for grandparent carers.

Frank added, "you put your life on hold, you re-adjust your lifestyle, you raise the kiddies, and you enjoy it." 

The grandparents started looking for support groups in their area.

"You lose your friends because you no longer have anything in common with them … You can't run around, or play sport, or easily go down to the beach," she said.

"You need to have a group that you can relate to, who you can go to for assistance."  

The couple joined Grandparents Raising Grandchildren which in 2017 was reformed and renamed Kin Raising Kids Tasmania, of which Frank is chief executive. 

The group exists to raise public awareness about the pressures faced by grandparent carers and wants to see greater government support.

It also wants to educate about the positives of raising grandchildren, believing that children should, wherever possible, live with biological family members instead of being sent into the foster care system. 

On hold:  The Tyers cancelled their caravanning trip around Australia to care for their grandchildren.

On hold: The Tyers cancelled their caravanning trip around Australia to care for their grandchildren.

Frank said a majority of the group's members are informal, where grandparents care for children without statutory or court-based orders, and without government assistance. 

Formal carers, in comparison, care for children under Magistrate Division court orders and raise the children alongside Child Protection Services who allocate caseworkers.

Frank said informal carers do not receive automatic carers payments, such as those received by foster and formal carers, and many do not apply for Commonwealth government allowances.

"A lot of the grandparents are too frightened to pursue [Federal support payments].  In many instances it is their kids' drug money, and they might get violent," he said.

"There is also a lot of stigmas associated with these situations and families don't want to be embarrassed so they just put up with it and get on with life."

Life is not dull at all. There is a lot of love and affection in this house, there really is, we have our moments but who doesn't?

Geraldine, 76

The lack of financial assistance can impede children's access to specialist medical and psychological support. 

"Kids under formal care usually get higher priority, which just makes it so cruel for the informal ones," he said.

"Grandparents end up getting poorer and poorer.  You just hope the kids are going to get well." 

While sacrifices are made and hardships experienced by grandparents raising grandchildren, most would never change their lot.

They just want recognition and support. 

"Life is not dull at all.  There is a lot of love and affection in this house, there really is, we have our moments but who doesn't," Geraldine said. 

Above all, their main concern is the children, to ensure they get the same experiences and opportunities as any other Tasmanian child. 

Frank asks: "Why should the kiddies suffer through life because of this system?"

  • Raising Grandchildren is a series looking at the challenges faced by elderly couples and singles who have children in their full-time care.