Riverina grandparents fight for family recognition

UNBREAKABLE BOND: Michelle Kearns at home with her grandchildren Justin Oliver, 7, and Christell Papadakis, 17. Picture: Kieren L Tilly

UNBREAKABLE BOND: Michelle Kearns at home with her grandchildren Justin Oliver, 7, and Christell Papadakis, 17. Picture: Kieren L Tilly

When Wagga grandmother Michelle Kearns received a call to pick up her two grandchildren from the airport, she never imagined she would be spending her senior years doing the school run. 

Mrs Kearns immediately took in her two grandchildren, now 7 and 17, after they were removed from their parents care. 

After two years of gruelling FACS appointments, medical assessments, criminal history checks and trauma training, Mrs Kearns is now fighting the NSW government for a grandmother title, with foster carer rights. 

“We were immediately treated like foster carers with home visits – it was really quite invasive,” Mrs Kearns said. 

“I had to get a medical certificate to say I could care for my own grandchildren.” 

Mrs Kearns’ life suddenly transformed as she became the full time carer for her granddaughter, who suffers from a chronic genetic disorder and her grandson, who is on the autism spectrum.  

“We were classed under the foster care banner but we weren’t getting the entitlements,” Mrs Kearns said. 

“We want the government to advocate for our rights and recognise what we do.” 

Mrs Kearns is battling, along with several other Riverina grandmothers, for five days respite a month and the same financial assistance foster carers receive. 

“We have to go through FACS just to organise other family members to visit the kids,” Mrs Kearns said. 

“The other day my grandson fell over and hit his head; I had to ring FACS to notify them of the bruise because you just don’t know what they could think. 

“For a normal parent they would just put the band-aid on and be done with it.” 

With four case workers in two years, Mrs Kearns said she was fed up with the bureaucracy.

“It’s been a curve ball for every one of us but we love the children,” Mrs Kearns said. “We want recognition that we are special and we sacrifice a lot.” 

Mrs Kearns and her husband have both had to reduce their working hours in order to care for their grandchildren, putting their own lives on hold. 

“There are so many changes you go through which people don’t see,” Mrs Kearns said. 

“I’ve lost a lot of friends who no longer call because I'm too busy – we need that adult support.” 

When Mrs Kearns joins Wagga’s Grandparents Doing it Tough support group to protest for her cause on April 28, she said she hopes the community’s perception will shift. 

“To have community support is just as important as our status,” Mrs Kearns said. 

“We live here, we spend money here and I look after so many others in the community, I want to be known as more than a foster carer.” 

Riverina grandparents will march from 10am at the Wagga City Council Building.

The support group’s monthly meetings are held on the first Friday of each month. 

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