When Home isn’t a Happy Place

For 20 years Eleanor Millard has been providing support to grandparents who want to rescue their grandchildren. Year after year, Millard’s phone rings, and an anonymous person on the other end needs help figuring out what the options are for taking a grandchild away from the parents.

“They usually say they’re worried about their grandchildren, because they’re being neglected,” Millard says. “It could be that their daughter’s boyfriend is being abusive to the kids, but they have no proof. They may have been to see the social worker and the social worker needs proof.”

Millard is the driving force behind the Grandparents Rights Association of the Yukon (GRAY). She cares, and listens to the distressed grandparent. She also counsels the grandparent on options available, and will even attend meetings with social workers, lawyers, mediators, and the parent(s).

During the past 20 years, the calls just keep coming and the problems are the same.

“The reason I stick with it is because people need to have someone who will listen to them and understand their situation,” Millard says. “It’s even just effective when I say that I’ve had the same situation. A lot of them are embarrassed by their family being a mess – and they’re relieved to hear that somebody who sounds a bit professional is understanding.”

Millard’s understanding goes deep. She knows what it’s like to be worried about one’s grandkids, and she understands the social systems.

Her understanding of the situation comes partly from her experience as a social worker, a drug and alcohol outreach worker, an adult continuing education counselor, and as an MLA.

Her depth of understanding also comes from having spent six months researching the situation. In 2008 the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation in Carmacks commissioned Millard to conduct interviews in the community to define the scope of this issue. Millard completed the six-month project and prepared a report called “Na Doonea Chi: Kinship Care in the Yukon.”

Her results showed that of the grandparents caring for children on a full-time basis, 41 per cent were doing it because the parents had addictions; 24 per cent said the parents were neglecting the children; and 35 per cent had other reasons, such as parents with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, parents who had died or had health problems, or parents that couldn’t look after their children due to financial problems.

Of the grandparents who were caring for their grandchildren full time, 68 per cent were First Nation, and 32 per cent were non-First Nation.

Calls only come in to GRAY when grandparents don’t know what to do.

It could be that the grandparent sees the grandchildren once in awhile and is picking up on clues that there is a problem in the home.

“It could be a boyfriend, or it could be the daughter or the son,” Millard says. “But usually the mother is fighting with her daughter, because the daughter is involved with drugs or alcohol, or she is in an abusive relationship, which worries the mother.”

In every case the grandparent is worried about how to make home life for the grandchild safe, loving, and stable.

Some grandparents want the child to come and live with them; some can’t afford to raise the child, but want something to be done.

Millard offers help with all of these issues through GRAY, for free.

“Some don’t know anything about the social services, and some do and aren’t happy with them,” Millard says. “Most need someone to talk to and give direction.”

GRAY is a not-for-profit organization, and they don’t advertise. People find out about it through word of mouth.

“When somebody has trouble, people will say, ‘Why don’t you phone Eleanor?'” she says. “And the MLAs know me – so it’s word of mouth, more than anything.”

For more information about the Grandparents’ Rights Association of the Yukon, call 867-821-3821.

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