Annual Report 2005‚Äď06

Young children and their grandparents

(Taken from Family Matters, edition 72, "Young children and their grandparents" by Matthew Gray, Sebastian Misson and Alan Hayes.)

Grandparents have always played an important role in family life and raising children, and various aspects of 'grandparenting' are increasingly discussed in social policy debates. Information on the role of grandparents in children's lives is important for several reasons - for example: grandparents caring for their grandchildren can enable parents to be in paid employment; the quality of the relationship between children and grandparents can have an impact upon the wellbeing of the grandparent as well as on the developmental outcomes for the child; and, for parents who separate and divorce, grandparents can play a particularly important role in caring for children and assisting in raising the child.

Contact with grandparents

While much of the recent policy debate has been about grandparents who have full responsibility for raising their grandchildren, the number of children in this situation is quite small. Living in a household in which grandparents reside is more common. Estimates from Growing Up in Australia are that 7 per cent of infants and 4 per cent of 4-5 year olds were living with a grandparent in the household.

Figure 13 shows that there were very few children who had no face-to-face contact with at least one grandparent (3 per cent of infants and 4-5 year olds). A substantial majority of grandchildren saw their grandparents at least every month or more frequently (79 per cent of infants and 75 per cent of 4-5 year olds). Overall, infants saw their grandparents slightly more often than 4-5 year olds, but the differences are very small.

Figure 13 - Face-to-face contact between children and grandparents by cohort

A much debated question is the impact of parental relationship breakdown on contact between children and their grandparents. In particular, there are concerns about the difficulties that some grandparents have seeing their grandchildren following relationship breakdown. Data from Growing Up in Australia show that children with a parent living elsewhere were more likely to see a grandparent daily than children without a parent living elsewhere, particularly for the infant cohort (Figure 14).

Figure 14 - Face-to-face contact between children and grandparents by parental relationship status and birth cohort

Grandparent care

While the proportion of children having contact with their grandparents was high, a smaller proportion of children received regular care from their grandparent. Slightly less than one in five infants (18 per cent) received care on a regular basis from their grandparents. A similar proportion of 4-5 year olds received regular care from their grandparents (17 per cent).

For both cohorts, grandparent care was, on average, shorter than time spent in child care centres. For infants receiving grandparent care, the average number of hours per week was 12, and for 4-5 years olds it was 11 hours per week. For both cohorts, the average number of hours spent in child care centres was 19 hours per week.

The majority of grandparents caring for children were not paid for the care they provided, with just 5 per cent of grandparents receiving remuneration for caring for an infant, and 8 per cent of grandparents being paid for caring for 4-5 year olds.

These analyses cast new light on the nature of grandparenting in Australia. They illuminate the patterns of grandparent involvement and the nature of their relationships with grandchildren. Clearly grandparents are playing an important role in many children's lives. With longitudinal data, we will be able to look at the influence of grandparent care on children's developmental outcomes and for understanding variation and change in key social relationships for children.

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