Over the years, there has been a significant increase in the number of grandparent-headed families. Across the United States, more than 6 million children are being raised in households headed by grandparents or relatives other than parents, and 2.5 million children are in those households without any parents present. Some common reasons for grandparents being responsible for raising their grandchildren include parental substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, abandonment, and parental incarceration or death. Whatever the reason, the decision is usually made due to the parents’ lack of ability to provide care for their children.
In 2006, more than 5,400 Alaskan grandparents reported they were responsible for raising their grandchildren: 43% of which were American Indian or Alaskan Native and another 41% of which were Caucasian. Although some grandparents acknowledge benefits from raising their grandchildren, others are facing challenges. Research has suggested that grandparents in this situation experience problems such depression, social isolation, and poverty. Grandparents who are the primary caretakers also experience increased stress and depression, compared with non-custodial grandparents, and increased physical health problems as well. More than half of the caregiving grandparents reported some degree of limitation in doing heavy work and 4 in 10 reported that their physical or mental condition limited their ability to work for pay. Statistics prove that custodial grandparents had poorer self-reported health than non-caregiving grandparents. While this responsibility can have an impact on grandparents, children are affected by these difficult family circumstances as well.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, grandchildren being raised by their grandparents have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems than children in the overall U.S. population. Grandchildren being raised by custodial grandparents recognize that their parents are no longer available to them; these circumstances can cause a child to not only question their values as a person but may lead to depression, anxiety, and poor decision making. Children may also be at greater risk for these behavioral and emotional problems when raised in low-income, grandparent care compared to children in the general population.
Grandparents who are raising grandchildren face their own challenges with as many as 1 in 4 grandparents managing their own disability, in addition to the needs of the children in care. Having the support in place to talk about this stress can help grandparents and grandchildren. Support groups are a great way for grand families to receive the support they may need in order to provide care for their grandchildren and themselves. It is also important for grandparents to find programs that can help meet the financial needs of grand families that focus on housing, education, and health care services.
Kinship Care 2006
Kinship Care 2006
Grandfamilies: The Health Challenges of Raising Grandchildren
The Health of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Results of a National Study
More U.S. Children Raised by Grandparents
Supporting grandfamilies: Common relational issues and support needs faced by grandparents