The Australian Greek Welfare Society (AGWS) is offering a structured six-week course for Greek-speaking grandparents whose children are experiencing separation or divorce, in turn affecting their relationship with their grandchildren.

In 2007 adjustments were made to family law Australia-wide, recognising the rights of children to have access to meaningful relationships despite what happens to their parents’ relationships.

According to educator and trainer for the AGWS, Adonis Maglis, this is a prevalent issue in the Greek Australian community and the instatement of such a law was and is of great significance.

“What this means for the very first time in history is that grandparents have the opportunity to access mediation,” said Mr Maglis.

“This means they can go to a mediation centre and say ‘look our children have separated or divorced, and as a result our relationship with our grandchildren has been interrupted and has become hostile. We want to make sure that this relationship continues’.”

The mediation process allows grandparents to invite the parents for a discussion to organise an arrangement of regular visitation, given there are no issues regarding the health and safety of the child.

If however, the parents are unwilling to negotiate, the grandparents now have the right to obtain a certificate from the mediator and take the matter to court.

Started in 2007 in conjunction with the passing of the new law, the AGWS established a family program offering courses to grandparents after their family counsellor reported an increase in elderly people expressing issues that had to do with their adult children, particularly when their child had experienced a marriage breakdown, and gaining access to their grandchildren.

“This made us aware for the need to actually work with Greek-speaking grandparents who are coming to us because of the language barriers – they couldn’t access services like Lifeline or mediation centres, etcetera,” he said.

Funded by the Department of Social Services, the courses are run twice a year and offer a safe environment where attendees are given information and support services free of charge.

“People can come together in this confidential, respectful environment and learn about communication skills, stress management, conflict resolution, the role of the grandparents in their current context, family law and the rights of the children,” said Mr Maglis.

Since commencing the program, Mr Maglis says he has received an all-round positive response.

Despite some grandparents not being able to resolve their conflict for one reason or another, the program has changed their lives.

“They have this common understanding because it’s the same cultural background. They share a lot, they cry, they tell their story. So we find after the first session they’re actually exchanging phone numbers and so happy that they meet people that they can talk to about whatever’s happening and that they’re not going to be judged,” he said.

Those interested are encouraged to call and express their interest in the course, following which an assessment will be made as to whether the course is suitable for the needs of the grandparent.

In the case that the course is not suitable, other suggestions and offers of help will be made by a professional.

“I would encourage those interested to talk to a professional because sometimes when we try to resolve things within the family – which is a very common thing with the Greeks – every family member has vested interests, they’re emotionally involved, they have opinions, feelings and sometimes may not be the best person to talk to.”

For more information and to enrol, contact Adonis Maglis at the Australian Greek Welfare Society on (03) 9388 9998.