Back to school intensifies responsibilities for grandparents

ASHINGTON (NNPA)—Grandmothers have long been the safety net for parents who are either unable or unwilling to take care of their own children.

Social workers refer to families in which grandparents raise their grandchildren instead of the parents as “skipped-generation” households. Grandma stands in for mom—or grandfather for dad. Or, often, one as both.


According to the U.S. Census  Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey, there are 6.2 million grandparents acting as primary caregivers for children under 18 years old. Of those, more than 1.2 million are African-American.

Children end up with grandparents or other guardians for a variety of reasons. But while most are more than willing to stand in as their grandchildren’s primary caregivers, many of them live on fixed incomes, which can pose significant financial difficulty for the family, as well as other life-related challenges.

As millions of children head back to school, this means the need for new clothes, books, materials and school fees.

Retired social worker Geraldine Martin of Denver, who has just taken in her great-grandchildren, has to replace their entire wardrobe.

“I’m supposed to be retired and enjoying my golden years,” said Martin, who has already raised her children, grandchildren and, now, her great-grandchildren. “Instead I have to keep working to keep food in my grand kids’ mouths. But I don’t mind.”

Martin, 68, picked up a job part-time helping to care for the mentally-challenged. Her income comes from retirement checks and Social Security. She receives some public aid for taking in the kids, which helps a lot she said.

Martin’s story reflects thousands around the nation.

A 2005 University of Florida national study found that the largest racial percentage of children living in grandparent-headed households are Black.

Grandparents are the safety net of American families, said AARP’s family expert Amy Goyer. Katherine Jackson reminded the country of that when her famous son, Michael Jackson, died in June—leaving behind an estate and three children in need of a home.

“The transition can initially be a shock for both the kids and the grandparents,” Goyer said.

The transition could include the sudden change in cramped living conditions and a change in work schedule and lifestyle in order to meet the needs of the children. In order to help with the mounting changes, Goyer recommends that caregivers seek out community grandparent groups that exist across the country and research and apply for the various public benefits that exist in local areas. One good way to aid in research is to utilize online tools that are available. AARP maintains a database on their website with relevant organizations, state fact sheets and crucial laws that are applicable to grandparent caregivers.

“A majority of grandparents don’t have a legal relationship with the children they care for. It is usually informal,” Goyer said.


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