Grandfriends

Reporter: Bryan Seymour

Our population may be ageing, but it's the youngest among us missing out. Research has found more and more children are growing up without grandparents. One mother decided she doesn't want that to happen.

At just four, Nicholas De Rossi has already missed out on so much.

"Well I feel I've missed out not having grandparents" says Nicholas' mother Grace. "So when he said that to me and said, mummy can I have a grandpa, can you buy me one at the shop, I just thought, ohhh, how sweet."

The result, this internet plea on a community-based message board. Already Grace has spoken to one couple who'd like to fill the gap in her son's life.

Iris Wallis knows this better than most. As the founder of a group called Grandfriends, she's dedicated her life to bridging the generational gap.

15 year old Ebony and her brother Aiden, 12, are just two of the kids who've 'adopted' Iris as a kind of surrogate Nanna.

For 20 year 'Grandfriends' has helped children by providing regular contact with older people in their school classrooms which sometimes develops into something more.

"I work with the elderly so I hear their stories and they've lived through wars, recessions, things like that and I just think having a Grandpa or even other Grandmas in his life he's going to learn certain things and they've got a lot of compassion and patience which I think a lot of us don't seem to have these days" says Grace.

Family break ups, moving to new cities or countries, putting off having children and stying in the workforce longer. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, these factors have left 1 in 10 children with no grandparents to spend time with. Many thousands more having only fleeting contact.

"We live in a world now where's there's a lot of dysfunctional families, a lot of the children don't even have a dad in their lives!" says Iris.

You can't choose your family, so the old saying goes. Yet this story asks the question, if you could choose your family, should you? What are the risks involved and how can you make sure your children are safe?

"I think in this case the risk would be very, very slight." Clinical psychologist Jo Lamble loves the idea of adopting a grandad or grandma, as long as one basic rule is followed from the start.

"I would suggest that no one leaves their child with a surrogate grand parent alone, that you are just around, around the house or around the park or wherever you're meeting and then slowly as that person becomes more and more part of that child's life, maybe having a little bit more distance but never leaving them completely alone because it may not be safe" says Jo Lamble.

Grace agrees; "Strange people basically that are in it for the wrong reasons. They've got to understand it's not just Nicholas, he's going to have family around him constantly and that's what it's all about."

To find out more about Grandfriends, see the below details:

Grandfriends (NSW)

Level 4, 280 Pitt St, Sydney, NSW 2000

(02) 9286 3860

1800 449 102

www.cotansw.com.au/grandfriends.aspx