ABC: Grandparents in Distress Support (GIDS)

A grandmother’s crusade to support other parents of divorcing children

ABC Gold Coast

By Nicole Dyer, Caitlyn Sheehan and Tom Forbes 


A Gold Coast grandmother who lost contact with her grandchildren during her child’s divorce has inspired a new national support group to help others experiencing similar distress.

Key points:

  • A new national support group for grandparents separated from grandchildren through divorce is now available
  • Colleen James says more than 100 grandparents seeking support responded to an impromptu meet-up posted on social media
  • Parents Beyond Breakup says grandparents are often forgotten victims of breakups and so is their pain

Colleen James says she has a lot of experience with relationship breakdowns involving children.

The grandmother has not only worked in family law, but three of her six children have experienced breakdowns with partners where children were involved.

Ms James said relationship separation could have a dramatic impact on the entire family.

“People say your son is grown up and let him deal with it,” she said.

“But when it’s in your face, when it’s under your nose and when it’s in your heart, you can’t help but be involved.”

The 70-year-old said there was a feeling of helplessness.

“You are watching your son and daughter go through a terrible time in their life and as a parent you can’t fix it,” she said.

“You also become attached to the ex-partner and then, of course, there’s the children.

“I have 14 grandchildren who are very special and I just love them to absolute bits.”

Ms James said that she found it very hard not having the same level of contact with her grandchildren.

‘I knew this was huge’

In desperation, the Gold Coast grandmother rang the support service Dads in Distress to get help for her son and discuss what she was going through.

Ms James said the support group provided her comfort.

“I thought to myself, ‘There isn’t anything specific for grandparents’. So I put a few feelers out on a community social page,” she said.

“I just said, ‘Are there any other grandparents that would like to get together for coffee once a month to exchange phone numbers and support one another?’

“I thought there would be half a dozen, but I ended up getting over 100 responses and I knew this was huge.”

Ms James went back to Dads in Distress for help and the service, via its parent group, Parents Beyond Breakup, helped form Grandparents in Distress in under a week.


Grandparents often suffer greatly if they lose contact with grandchildren as a result of their child’s separation.

The support group launched online yesterday.

“Starting out from a coffee shop meeting, with half a dozen people, to this — I’m really rapt,” Ms James.

Chief executive of Parents Beyond Breakup Gillian Hunt said the charity welcomed the opportunity to add the Grandparents in Distress support service to their existing Dads in Distress and Mums in Distress services.

“We weren’t surprised because on our helpline we do actually support a number of grandparents,” she said.

“Colleen is not the first but she is the first one who’s taken the initiative to do something about it.”

Grandparents suffer too 

Ms Hunt said grandparents required a different type of support from parents during a separation or relationship breakdown.

“You need to understand the distress that either a child of yours, or a grandchild of yours, or you yourself are going through,” she said.

“Often we see that the grandparents are the forgotten parents … their pain is not pain that’s addressed that often.”

Parents Beyond Breakup is a registered charity that focuses on the prevention of suicide in separating parents.

Anyone wanting to contact Grandparents in Distress can reach the support group by calling 1300 853 437 or by visiting


A grandmother’s crusade to support other parents of divorcing children – ABC News