Grandparents across the country, regardless of income, background, or race, are becoming parents again! Grandparents who find themselves suddenly with this added responsibility often need help meeting the needs of their grandchildren. They need assistance with the child development, financial, educational, emotional, medical, and legal issues that come with this new role. Many grandparents are raising their grandchildren because of family complications such as teenage pregnancy, death, divorce, substance abuse, incarceration, abandonment, AIDS, and child abuse.
This is a growing population–1.4 million children (almost one child in twenty) live in a household headed by their grandparent/s with no parent present.
Are you raising your grandchildren? You are not alone!
- 1.4 million children are raised without a parent present (1 child in every 20)
- 5 percent of American families are grandparent/grandchild families
- 10 percent of all grandparents are raising grandchildren
- 4 million children live in a household headed by a grandparent
- the number of children only in day care with a grandparent continues to escalate
There are several gifts children bring into our lives. Welcome these gifts and encourage them in your relationship with your grandchildren:
Some characteristics you as a grandparent bring to the relationship include:
- Unique wisdom that comes from years of experiences
- Family roots
There are also challenges that come with raising children again. You must be aware of these challenges and address them accordingly.
- Feelings of shock and sadness
- Less energy
- Financial obligation
- Behavior problems
- Legal help
- Parent involvement
Grandparents experienced in raising their grandchildren advise others of the importance of balancing time for self with time for family. They emphasize the need to continue adult friendships, the need to have a quiet time for themselves each day, and the need to participate in activities and hobbies of interest.
You Can’t Do Everything
Takas (1995) cites in her book, Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, “caring for your grandchildren is hard work. You can’t do everything. All you can do is your best . . .”
- Can’t keep grandchild from feeling sad or angry. You can offer your grandchild care and understanding, and help finding counseling if needed.
- Can’t make grandchild a better student overnight. You can help with homework, read together, limit television, and work with your grandchild’s school.
- Can’t make grandchild’s parents better. You can suggest treatment programs or other services that might offer them encouragement and assistance.
- Can’t do everything right any more than any parent can. You can get services and supports to help you do your best with all the challenges.
There is relief in knowing that you can’t–and need not–do everything. You can take pride in doing your best.
Relationships recognized in a court of law are adoption, guardianship, certification as a foster parent, and powers of attorney. Custody agreements vary on the degree to which a grandparent wants to be involved in the discipline, physical and financial care, and educational process of the child. It is important for grandparents to understand the legal and financial implications of these relationships:
- Adoption means all rights and obligations of the child’s parents are terminated. This is often a difficult decision because a grandparent must admit that their child is an unfit parent.
- Guardianship may be either permanent or temporary.
- Certification as a foster parent qualifies the caregiver for financial benefits on a level with other foster parents.
- Powers of attorney allow grandparents only to make decisions regarding the grandchildren. They do not transfer legal custody.
Understand Your Support Systems
Grandparents may not be solely responsible from a legal and financial standpoint in raising their grandchildren; therefore, they may be faced with many challenges. The legal status of the arrangement often can cause problems from being eligible for assistance to enrolling a grandchild in school. Grandparents may be able to receive Social Security Retirement Benefits, if they have legal custody of grandchildren under the age of 18. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may be available if the family income and resources fall within the guidelines.
Another key issue for grandparents is finding health insurance coverage for the grandchildren. Grandparents who are retired and on Medicare may need to buy an individual policy, which can be expensive. Medicaid may be an option for those who qualify. Grandparents who are still working may find their employer-provided health insurance is unavailable for children in kinship care arrangements. Help is available; however, grandparents need to learn how to work with the public systems in their local community. Support groups, in which grandparents can talk to other grandparents raising grandchildren can provide valuable moral and informational support.
There Is Help!
Seek assistance from:
- Support groups
- Social services
- Legal services
- Government programs
Watching a child you love struggle with the pain of past hurts may be one of life’s hardest tasks. But it’s also an opportunity to help.
The Grandparents’ Perspective
In the most recent Census Bureau statistics, 2.4 million of the nation’s families are maintained by grandparents who have one or more of their grandchildren living with them–an increase of 400,000 (19 percent) since 1990. These families comprise 7 percent of all families with children under 18.
Slightly more than half (1.3 million) of these 2.4 million grandparent-maintained families contain both grandparents; 1.0 million have only a grandmother; and 150,000 have only a grandfather.
All in all, 2.3 million grandparent-maintained families contain a grandmother and 1.4 million have a grandfather. The grandfathers are more likely than the grandmothers to be employed (66 percent compared with 51 percent) and to own their home (81 percent compared with 69 percent) but less likely to be poor (12 percent and 23 percent).
Of the grandparents who maintain homes for their grandchildren, 55 percent of grandmothers and 47 percent of grandfathers are not yet age 55. Additionally, 19 percent of grandmothers and 15 percent of grandfathers are under age 45.
About two-thirds of grandparent-maintained families include one or both of the children’s parents.
Among grandparent-maintained families, the average household income ranges from $19,750 for those with only a grandmother present to $61,632 for families with both grandparents and at least one of the grandchildren’s parents present.
The Grandchildren’s Perspective
There are 3.9 million (6 percent) children in the United States living in a grandparent’s home, up 76 percent from the 2.2 million (3 percent) who did so in 1970.
Among children in grandparent-headed families, 47 percent live with both grandparents, 47 percent reside with only their grandmother, and 6 percent live with only their grandfather. About two-thirds of these children also reside with at least one of their parents.
Of the children living in a grand-parent’s home, 42 percent are white, 36 percent are African American, 17 percent are Hispanic, and 5 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander or American Indian or Alaska Native.
About 670,000 children across the United States live in their grandmother’s home with neither their grandfather nor their parents present. About two-thirds of these children are poor. The overall poverty rate for children living in a grandparent’s home is 27 percent; for children living in their parents’ home, it is 19 percent.
One-half of grandchildren living in a grandparent’s home are younger than 6.
With respect to one-third of the children who live in a grandparent’s home, the grandparent(s) lacks a high school diploma. In contrast, only one-eighth of children residing in their parents’ homes can say the same thing about their parent(s).