6 Elder L. Rev. [i] (2010)

handle is hein.journals/elr6 and id is 1 raw text is: GRANDPARENTS AND GRANDPARENTING: EDITORIAL
In 2004, for the first time, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) included a question in its
Family Characteristics Survey which sought information regarding families where grandparents,
rather than parents, were acting as primary caregivers. This question was inserted at the initiative
of the Council on the Ageing (COTA) in NSW. The result was a figure of 22,500 families in this
situation., involving more than 30,000 children under 16 years of age.
The ABS figures were almost certainly an underestimate, like all previous estimates. For instance,
the ABS estimated, on the basis of its 1999 Family Survey, that there werel2,000 families with
grandparents as primary carers. Most academic investigators consider that the ABS methodology
leads to undersampling, because a high proportion of these families are concentrated in a
relatively small number of areas, especially near the coast, e.g. the central coast of New South
Wales. Since then, the ABS has produced new figures which indicate a decline in the number of
grandparent-headed families. This is a counter-intuitive result, which underlines the fact that
research on this topic has barely scratched the surface. There can, however, be no doubt about the
rapid increase in the numbers of children who have been placed in out--of-home care, i.e. not
in the homes of their parents. In the period 1996 to 2005, there was a 70 per cent increase in these
placements. Of these, 57 per cent were placed in foster care, and 42 per cent in kinship care.
Kinship care has increased rapidly in recent years. This is a world-wide trend which has become
the new orthodoxy among welfare authorities. In practice, the most important providers of
kinship care are grandparents, particularly maternal grandmothers.
In Australia, there is a particularly high proportion of Aboriginal (or indigenous) children in
kinship care, so that the role of grandmothers is correspondingly greater in indigenous
communities. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, indigenous children
are six times more likely to be in out-of-home care than non-indigenous children. (There is a
correspondingly high proportion of grandmother-headed families in the African-American
population, where the US Bureau of the Census estimated in 1997 that there were more than one
million families headed by grandparents).
Apart from acting as parents, grandparents also play a major role in providing child care for
working families, classified by the ABS as informal care. This has increased from 30 per cent of
school age children in 1984 to more than 40 per cent at the present time. Grandparents, and
especially grandmothers, are the largest source of informal care, accounting for more than half.
There appear to be four main factors which have brought this about:
1. Increased labour force participation by women
2. Increased rates of marriage breakdown
3. Increasing numbers of sole parents
4. Rising age of childbirth.
The continuing effect of these trends, combined with increased longevity and better health
among older people, has been to affect family life in a number f ways, including the role of
grandparents. These effects were already visible to some sociologists a generation ago, a notable
example being Bernice Neugarten in the 1960s. (Neugarten, B.L. and Weinstein, K.K., 1964, The
Changing American Grandparent, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 26, 199-204). The
consequences of these changes are now increasingly the subject of discussion among

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