Grandparents raising grandchildren: the challenges and benefits and where to find support

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Kinship CareAccording to the Public Children Services Association of Ohio, about 100,000 grandparents in the state are currently raising their grandchildren. Nationally, more than 2.5 million grandparents are doing the same.

When grandparents – or other relatives or close friends – raise children, it’s referred to as “kinship care,” and due largely in part to the nationwide opioid epidemic, more and more older adults are finding themselves as the head of a “grandfamily.”

According to the Ohio Family Care Association, there are different situations through which grandfamilies may be established:

  • informal arrangements
  • a legal custody or guardianship order
  • a relative foster care placement
  • adoption

If the grandfamily head is a grandparent, they may experience one of these common challenges:

  • The placement of children with a grandparent can happen suddenly, allowing little or no time for the grandparent to prepare for the basic needs of their new charges, let alone the time to research the various resources available to kinship caregivers.
  • If the grandfamily is together by informal arrangement, the grandparent may not be connected to resources that could potentially help them legally, financially and emotionally. Kinship caregivers who have more formal arrangements are usually connected to these resources by the agencies through which their grandfamily arrangement was made.
  • Grandparent caregivers tend to be less wealthy and less educated than the general population, and nearly one in three live below the poverty line. Raising their grandchildren adds a financial burden that many cannot bear.
  • Often, children whose parents are unable to care for them have experienced trauma, which can result in emotional and mental health issues. Grandparent caregivers are often called upon to help grandchildren work through these issues.

While the challenges can be many, there are also potentially life-changing benefits to both parties. According Generations United – a national organization that advocates for children, youth and older adults through intergenerational collaboration, public policies and other programs – compared to those in care with non-relatives, children in foster care with relatives have more stable and safe childhoods and a greater likelihood of having a permanent home. They have better mental and behavioral health, and are more likely to report always feeling loved. Additionally, in various surveys, grandparents report feeling enriched by raising their grandchildren. Having children around keeps them more active and interested in daily life, and staves off loneliness and depression.

Nonetheless, raising a second family isn’t a common item on people’s bucket lists, so if you find yourself in this situation, be sure to solicit help from your personal support system. Your friends and family can provide everything from babysitting to emotional support. And, there are many helpful local, state and national organizations that support kinship caregivers, listed below. Consider reaching out to them for guidance.

AARP Grandfamilies Guide
Beech Acres Parenting Center’s Kinship Connections support program
Generations United
Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ Resource Guide for Relatives Caring for Children
Ohio Family Care Association
Ohio Grandparent/Kinship Coalition
Ohio Jobs and Family Services Resource Guide for Relatives Caring for Children
Ohio Jobs and Family Services Support Services Locator for current foster or adoptive parents and kinship caregivers in Ohio
Public Children Services Association of Ohio