By BELINDA SCOTT
PAM is angry.
The 58-year-old Coffs Coast grandmother is so angry that her rage crackles off her like static electricity.
Pam is a guest speaker at today's free Grandparents As Carers Forum at the Coffs Ex-Services Club, where she will tell the heartwrenching story of her own eight-year journey as a parent the second time around.
Instead of looking forward to retirement and taking things a bit easier, she had to give up work to become a full-time mother to her two grandchildren and retirement is a distant dream for her and her husband, who is a Vietnam veteran on a TPI disability pension. It is not her much-loved grandchildren that make Pam angry.
What makes her so angry are the substances and the people that are disrupting the lives of so many others ? the drugs and alcohol that are destroying the lives of many young parents and the young people who fail to break the grip of their addictions.
It is the parents who use their children as meal tickets and bargaining tools in their quest for money.
It is the inertia of organisations and governments who are turning a blind eye to the struggles of so many grandparents.
It is the indifference of those who could campaign for change and don't bother to do so.
Pam says in her own case taking over the care of her grandchildren and keeping custody of them has cost her and her husband about $35,000 so far and she knows grandparents who have spent up to $65,000 on legal costs.
While the government now provides grandparent carers with free after-school and vacation care, she said other issues had not been taken into consideration.
These included grief and loss, counselling for the children and the lack of legal aid for court appearances for working grandparents or those with some assets.
Terrifyingly, Pam says 98 per cent of grandparents who become full-time carers of their grandchildren do so because of problems with drug or alcohol addiction, often associated with mental health problems.
And the problem is not small, with 31,100 grandparents now primary carers for their grandchildren, 43 per cent of them in regional areas and many of them single grandmothers.
"What happens if we get sick or die?" Pam said.
"There are a lot of legal and financial issues and a lot of children also have disabilities ? some have foetal alcohol syndrome or brain damage from heroin.
"I'm fortunate I have two very good children, but some children have behavioural problems, ADD or ADHD."
At today's Forum, Pam will launch the Grandparents and Kinship Carers Support Service, which will function through Boambee's Neighbourhood House.
The support service is unfunded and relies completely on volunteers, but will open every Monday from 10am to 2pm.