Gransnet forums

Ask a gran

mother of grandchildren has mental health issues. Who can help?

(24 Posts)
Fiknit Sun 10-Jun-12 21:34:38

Hi everyone, I'm not a grandma but have joined this forum out of respect for your collective age & experience. I hope you can give me some advice.
My parents are in their 70s. My younger sister (34), who has battled depression and mental health issues since her teens, recently had 2 young boys (3 & 5). Both unplanned. Same father, but they were never actually in a relationship and there are constant arguments over access (in and out of court). My sister does not work and lives off of state benefits. The father contributes a bit financially but it is sporadic and a source of constant debate. My parents, particularly my mother, have taken the brunt of my sister's rages and lack of responsibility since her teens, but have tried to support her regardless. As a result, they have practically raised the grandchildren since their birth, as my sister very often cannot cope with her daily responsibilities. The kids stay with my parents for a week or more at a time, even though my sister lives 15 min drive away. Not surprisingly, my parents' health is beginning to suffer. Mum has had heart problems in the last year and a stroke 2 weeks ago. Dad is very stressed and trying to hide it. Also they are subsidising the situation financially.

I don't live nearby and have to travel abroad constantly for work. I am very aware that this is an unsustainable situation for my parents, and that they are just about coping on a day to day level. But I am terrified for my parents' health as i can see the strain on them. THey say they are 'OK' but I sense that this is far from the truth. I am at a loss to know what to do. My gut feeling is that they need to distance themselves from my sister's situation so she learns to cope more, and they can enjoy their retirement more, but no one seems to be listening. I have tried to get help from the local authorities but there doesn't seem to be any real help available unless my sister goes into mental health crisis care. Which happens a couple of times a year, then we're back to square one again.
Has anyone any experience of a similar situation? My parents have worked hard all their lives and I hate to see them so stuck in this co-dependent situation but I have no idea how to help out.

glammanana Sun 10-Jun-12 21:45:47

Fiknit Although I have not had any experience with what your parents are going through there will be GNers who can advise you and point you in the right direction,I think that until your sister receives the help she needs your parents will continue to carry the responsibility of the children which is not good considering your mums health at the moment,once your sister takes the help available and stands up to her responsibilities things should get better.Can the childrens father not care for them when your sister has a crisis or is he not on the scene in a regular capacity.

nanaej Sun 10-Jun-12 22:00:30

The kids GP or any school they attend should be able to direct you to services if you explain the whole situation. There maybe a Home Start scheme or a Parent support worker that could help. I would have thought that if your sister has been in psychiatric hospital and kids were cared for by your parents they will be known to SS. it may mean you do have to express concerns for the safety of the children to get a response & I wonder if you would want to do that..very tough decision.
If your mum is ill who takes care of the children now?

Fiknit Sun 10-Jun-12 22:08:06

Thank you for your responses. Forgive my ignorance Glammanana- what are GNers please?
The father now lives a 4 hour drive away. He has the kids for a weekend every fortnight as determined by the court. Apparently they come back a bit disturbed after being with him. It must be very disruptive for the little chaps.
My sister is known to SS and last time she was in crisis care my parents told SS 'we can't cope'. SS were supposed to organise emergency care for the children but this never happened. The kids stayed with my parents over Xmas and then went back to my sister when her medication had been upped. THen we go around again.. I feel that SS are failing my family here but I don't know what the solution is short of the kids going into foster care? And my parents can't bear the thought of it. Which i understand.

Fiknit Sun 10-Jun-12 22:09:55

Nanaej - my mum is now out of hospital having been given the all-clear from her stroke, and so the nephews are now with my parents again.

j04 Sun 10-Jun-12 22:13:49

But what else could Social Services do, but offer short term foster care when needed? Wouldn't that be the best thing? If it really is making your parents ill.

Fiknit Sun 10-Jun-12 22:18:03

Hi j04 Yes I agree that it would probably be the best thing but my sister has to give her consent and her mental health situation makes that difficult. I have been advised that foster care is 'expensive' for the local authorities and therefore adoption would be the only longterm solution available. My parents seem unable to let go, I guess that's the real issue isn't it.

Fiknit Sun 10-Jun-12 22:20:35

Also, short term foster care would not solve my sister's situation, which is very much a long-term problem..
I suppose what i am asking is, as a daughter, how can I best help my parents through this difficult family situation?

Mishap Sun 10-Jun-12 22:21:23

The reason that SS place the children with the grandparents during a crisis I would suspect is to try and create some continuity for them so that they are with people they know and love. Often if willing family are there, then SS like to take a bit of a back seat. But they do need to understand your parents' problems and limitations.

The ideal situation for this family would be to receive proper support at home to help your sister be a better parent when she is well; and to provide support to your parents when they are caring for the children. Unfortunately this sort of support is costly and organisations like Home Start are having their funding cut.

I think it would be reasonable for you to have a quiet chat with the SS and suggest that a discussion should take place to find a way of helping. The mental health services need to be involved. It should be pointed out that the foster care option is not what is being requested - but that some support at home is vital. It would be better for this discussion to take place when things are ticking along reasonably so that a plan can be made at a time when there is no ongoing crisis.

Poor little scraps - you must be so worried. I hope that things improve a bit for you all.

j04 Sun 10-Jun-12 22:23:01

Well, perhaps all you can do is let them carry on caring for their grandchildren when needed. I can see they wouldn't want them to go to strangers. It's not ideal for them but having to let them go would probably make your mum iller than this is making her.


I hope your sister is getting good care. And I hope things improve for them all.

Fiknit Sun 10-Jun-12 22:31:52

Thank you mishap - I will try again to talk with SS as a concerned relative, but I suspect you're right, that the kind of day-to-day care that would be valuable here isn't really available. Of course I talk with my sister too, but she takes everything as extreme personal criticism so it can be rather difficult. Yes I am very worried all round, really! But thank you for your comments, I really appreciate the time you have taken to write and it does help me to try to think through this maze.
The nephews are adorable and I am going to look after them tomorrow smile

JessM Sun 10-Jun-12 22:32:45

I agree that you parents would be terribly upset if the children got adopted or fostered. GNers short for gransnetters. Us grans get very emotionally attached - it may be difficult for you to understand the intensity of that if you are not so close to the boys. Sound really hard on you all.
Are both of the children in school or only the 5 year old?

nightowl Sun 10-Jun-12 22:32:54

This is a difficult situation for all of you Fiknit and it illustrates how fragmented Social Care has become over the last twenty years. It also depends on where your sister lives as services do vary greatly in different parts of the country. You say your sister has been in 'crisis care' - does this mean she has been in hospital or under the care of the mental health Crisis Team? Does she have a Care Coordinator? If so then you could try to speak to that person about the fact that you don't think your sister is coping and she needs more support from Children's Services. However they will be bound by confidentiality and unable to discuss any details with you unless you have your sister's permission. Equally, your parents would need to be ready to accept any support that may be offered. It seems from your post that perhaps the first thing that needs to happen if at all possible is that all family members should talk about this situation together in an honest manner. Is there any chance of that happening?

Fiknit Sun 10-Jun-12 22:35:05

OH of course.. GN = Gransnet!!! I was a bit slow there, sorry..

nightowl Sun 10-Jun-12 22:36:26

Sorry I missed most of the above posts while I was typing!

Fiknit Sun 10-Jun-12 22:39:11

Hi Nightowl & thanks for your message. My sister has been under the care of the mental health Crisis Team on a few different occasions. This care normally lasts a week or so. I suppose I could ask to speak with my sister's care co-ordinator? Last time I tried to call they would not speak with me. An additional problem is that my sister resents me somewhat due to my career (I am a successful musician) and will take anything from me as criticism rather than 'trying to help'. Bit of a psychological minefield here! I think my parents are willing to accept the help but I am not sure my sister is willing to relinquish 'control' over her situation. It really is rather messy.

Fiknit Sun 10-Jun-12 22:41:52

IN terms of the fragmentation of social care, i think you're absolutely right and it is really evident to me in this case.

nightowl Sun 10-Jun-12 22:52:08

Fiknit I think you have every right to ask to speak to the care coordinator. Just explain that you are not asking them to pass on any confidential information; you simply would like some advice to help your sister and your parents. You could of course contact Children's Services yourself but I do feel the mental health services should be taking a lead in this. After all, it is for the benefit of your sister's mental health in the long term and they need to take a more holistic view. Good luck, I know it's a minefield.

vampirequeen Mon 11-Jun-12 07:25:55

Mental health will say the children are Social Services responsibility.

Social Services will let your parents take the children as they're struggling to find placements for children who have nowhere else to go. Unfortunately/fortunately the children have a safe place they move down the Social Services list.

Are the children on the Child Protection Register (it's not called that now but people will know what you mean if you ask)? If they are there will have to be regular meetings which include your sister, your parents and all the agencies involved. If they're not ask why not as they seem to be at risk.

shysal Mon 11-Jun-12 09:34:58

When I was a foster carer we undertook respite care for a few children, always the same ones, so that coming to stay was a normal part of their lives as they got to know us well. I don't know whether SS would be able to organise something similar for the children, so that your parents did not always have to step in.
I hope an acceptable plan can be put into place. flowers

AlisonMA Mon 11-Jun-12 10:19:49

I think your first line is to talk to the various organisations involved in your sister's care after explaining that you understand about confidentiality. As long as your parents keep taking the responsibility I don't think you will get any help but you should push what you think it is doing to them

If this fails a letter to your MP might be beneficial.

I think it needs to be said that your sister probably cannot do anything about her condition herself. It is so easy for those with no experience to think that people with mental health issues can help themselves, usually they can't. It is frustrating but has to be accepted

nightowl Mon 11-Jun-12 10:27:04

From what you have said Fiknit I don't think the children's circumstances would meet the threshold for the child protection register (child protection plan). They could undoubtedly be seen as children in need but in most areas resources are so stretched that children in need do not receive any services. The main problem may be that your parents are doing such a good job of providing support that no agency will recognise the need for anything extra. I do understand how concerned you are about your parents Fiknit but I think you should try to encourage them to ask for support rather than try to do everything yourself. You could risk being seen by your sister as interfering and that is likely to make her even less willing to listen or accept the need for help. I can't see how any progress can be made unless everyone can begin to acknowledge the difficulties and need for a backup plan.

j04 Mon 11-Jun-12 11:10:55

Yes. That's what I was thinking of shysal. Some neighbours of ours used to take children in on that basis.

petallus Thu 14-Jun-12 08:23:45

There's a lot of good advice given so far. I am wondering if one thing you could do is try to take a step back so as to lessen your own anxiety. Although your parents are in their 70s really it's up to them to make the final decision on what they are going to do in this difficult situation. They will probably struggle on as long as they can in the interests of their grandchildren.

Best Wishes.