Five years ago Isabel was getting very excited about life. Her son David was about to bring his three children to live in Australia and her husband Jim was about to retire. The couple had just downsized and moved into a small flat and she was looking forward to a bit of grand-mothering and a lot of travel around the country. At 56 she was ready to go part time at work and live an entirely new life.
Then at four in the morning the police knocked on her door. David had died from a heart attack. His wife had died from epilepsy only nine months before so the children, now orphans, had been alone in the flat with their father for six hours before being discovered.
Shocked and in grief, Isabel and her husband Jim jumped on a plane. They picked up their three grandchildren from foster care and brought them home to Australia. They had met David, Edward and Teagan before and often spoke to them on Skype, but the grandparents had to comfort and care for three traumatised and devastated children that they hadn’t seen for some time.
Soon after the children had been squished into the flat Isabel realised her life was going to be more difficult than she imagined. The children's behaviour was challenging, especially that of the three year old Teagan who hardly spoke and was often hard to calm down. Isabel took her to a doctor who diagnosed Autism. She then had the boys assessed and learnt all three children had undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD and a chromosomal disorder. Conditions she hadn't even known existed and conditions that need high care and much attention.
For a year Isabel worked to get her grandchildren specialised help, to settle them into school and Kindi and to find and move into a bigger house. The travel plans went out the window and her entire lifestyle changed. She began to chop up her days between work at a service station (starting at 4am) and care which involved rushing back and forth at a frantic pace. "I had a nervous breakdown. My blood pressure got too high and one day I just had to walk out of work." Isabel had to quit her job just as life was getting more expensive.
Watch Isabel and Jim tell their story on video
Isabel's story is shocking but it's not unique.
‘Heather’ had looked after her granddaughter on and off since she was born. But five years ago, her son’s ex-partner relinquished rights to the child. The ten year old girl arrived at Heather’s house traumatised after being sexually assaulted. Her father had a drug problem and ended up in jail.
Heather’s voice cracks often in conversation. It’s clear the strain and heartache is almost unbearable. She stops herself from shedding too many tears but the strain seems massive.
She says her granddaughter is doing well but she finds it even harder to parent this time around. Her son was a drug addict who began using marijuana on the school oval at 15 but the peer pressure even stronger for this generation “ the social media brings suffering .. the texting .. at times it is overwhelming .. I have to protect her”.