ON THE GROUND: Grandparents' Association

Scheme: The association is for grandparents that have contact or residence issues with their grandchildren

Funding: A combination of central government funding, Community Fund grants, donations from trusts plus members' fees and donations

Objectives: To bring together grandparents and grand-children and support them in achieving that goal

Ties between grandparents and their grandchildren can sometimes be cut following divorce, family rows, or even the death of a parent with the surviving parent deciding to block access.

In some instances, grandparents are faced with the dilemma of refusing to allow their own children to see their offspring because of social problems such as abuse or substance misuse issues. Lynn Chesterman, director at Grandparents' Association, says: "Sometimes grandparents have to make some pretty horrendous decisions. Some have had a knock on the door from an official person telling them that their child is dead so can they look after their orphaned grandchild."

The Grandparents' Association provides a support network for grandparents either faced with losing their grandchildren or to those who are unexpectedly thrown into the position of being principal carer.

Official figures for "kinship carers" - many of whom are grandparents - are put at around 6,000, although estimates suggests the number of grandparents looking after grandchildren is as many as 60,000.

In order to ease the burden, the charity plans to launch a range of new services to improve grandparents' lives. The first will be a welfare benefits helpline to guide them through the confused maze of benefit rules. The helpline is necessary because of the flood of referrals the association receives from the Citizen Advice Bureau, which itself is inundated with calls from grandparents confused by the anomalies to the legal system on benefits and access rights.

This helpline will benefit the thousands of grandparents fighting to have contact with their grandchildren.

The association will also increase the number of grandparent toddler groups from four to six. These groups provide a forum that is comfortable for grandparents to socialise in, meaning that pre-school children being looked after by their grandparents get to socialise with kids of their own age.

Unless new funding sources can be found, the charity could face a crisis early next year with the last of its money - £5,000 from the Department of Health - running out in March.

Despite the funding problems, Chesterman remains upbeat. "Seeing people who've used the service come back and volunteer time is fantastic. The resilience of people is inspiring," she says.

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