SOPHIE and Chris Kahika of Opotiki live for their grandchildren and are committed to raising thriving, happy mokopuna. Front row from left, Lahkeishahr Herewini, 7, Kris Kahika, 3, Lindsay Herewini, 5 and Rangi Kahika, 11. Photo James Sandbrook OB4835-01

THERE’S been a growing epidemic of Maori kuia and koro raising their mokopuna in the Opotiki region.

Growing older should be a time of rest and recreation, but for far too many ageing grandparents, raising young grandchildren is their reality.

For Sophie Kahika, a 57-year-old grandmother who is raising three of her moko at their home in Opotiki, it has been a lifelong journey. Retirement living isn’t on the agenda anytime soon for Ms Kahika, who is putting her mokopuna first.

A mother and grandmother who knows personally the obstacles and hardships experienced by others just like her, MS Kahika volunteers much of her time to a project which supports grandmas and grandpas tasked with raising grandbabies as young as two.

Ms Kahika said a coffee group links grandparents to services they might not even be aware of in the community.

“When I first sought help, I didn’t know where to go. Linking grandparents to the right support is fundamental for the older generation,” she said.

Raising confident contributors is the aim for this nan of seven, who enables her moko to reach for the stars and accomplish their future aspirations.

“I want to show them that there’s another life out there other than drugs and gangs.

“Three of my daughters have battled addictions to methamphetamine and it’s one of the reasons my moko live with me.

“I want to keep them safe, and I will do whatever it takes,” she said.
Elder abuse co-ordinator Donna Kelly has been raising her nine-year-old granddaughter since she was born.

The 65-year-old grandmother said she was one of the lucky ones.

“We have a large family and we’re very nurturing and supportive of one another. I can share that load with everyone,” she said.

Ms Kelly said some of the families and grandparents she worked with weren’t so lucky.

“They’re are not doing very well at all because of the financial abuse they endure,” she said.

Support when raising grandchildren is important and for many grandparents that help can be the difference between confidently raising their grandkids and feeling overwhelmed.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren manager Katie Bundle said many of their families were walking the same path.

The numbers of grandparents raising grandchildren has doubled over the past five years, with 5000 families nationwide accessing the GRG service.

“Last year we had over 700 new families come to us and we believe there’s a lot more families out there who don’t know about our service,” she said.

“The leading cause of family breakdown is the parents’ drug abuse and addiction to methamphetamine.

“Meth is indiscriminate and it’s right across all socio-economic groups. It doesn’t matter who you are,” she said.

Grandparents can contact GRG on their helpline at 0800 GRANDS or 0800 472 637.