Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
University of New Mexico
There has been a drastic increase in recent years of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Statistics have shown that between 1970 and 2000, the number of grandchildren being raised in a grandparent-headed household has actually doubled from 2.2 million to 4.4 million (Hayslip & Glover, 2009). Research has also shown that more than half of of these children are under the age of six (Brintnall-Peterson, et. al., 2009). New Mexico ranks sixth in the nation for the number of grandchildren living in grandparent-headed households (Goodman & Rao, 2007). A substantial amount of research has been done in the last decade to explore the effects, both negative and positive, that this increasing trend has had on grandparents and their grandchildren.
There are many reasons why grandchildren live with their grandparents. Reasons include parent’s incarceration, drug abuse, death or divorce, unemployment, mental illness, abuse or neglect, child abandonment, or even deployment (Goodman & Rao, 2007; Bunch et al., 2007). Goodman and Rao (2007) list three different types of caregiving roles for grandparents: transitional, custodial, and co-parenting. In the transitional role, parents are away temporarily and are expected to return after a brief period of time (after incarceration or deployment, for example). Custodial grandparents assume responsibility when a parent dies or is deemed unable to care for the child. Co-parenting grandparents are residing with the child and a parent due to financial hardship or other reasons. These grandparents share the responsibilities of raising the children with the parents. For the purpose of this paper, information focuses on transitional and custodial grandparents and the effects that this role has on their financial, physical, social, and emotional well being.
When a child comes into any home, even in the best of circumstances, there are financial ramifications. This is especially true for grandparents who assume custody of their grandchildren. Even when grandparents feel positively about taking on the custodial role, they report substantial financial hardship and loss of financial freedom (Hayslip & Glover, 2009). In many cases, the dreams and plans for retirement are postponed to meet these financial challenges (Bunch et al., 2007). Additionally, grandparents often draw on savings and retirement funds to make ends meet. One grandmother in Dunne and Kettler’s (2008) study explained that she had spent thousands and thousands of dollars out of her retirement fund to support her granddaughter. Her son made no effort to help financially.
There are also legal ramifications that come with assuming custody of a grandchild. Sometimes the grandparent does not have legal custody of the child, making it difficult to get educational, medical, and financial help without first hiring an attorney. Without documented legal custody, frustration increases when enrolling children in school, daycare, or when seeking medical and dental care (Bunch et al., 2007).
Current research has shown that grandparents that raise grandchildren experience lower physical health than their non-custodial peers (Kelch-Oliver, 2011; Brintnall-Peterson et al., 2009) due to higher levels of emotional stress (Lumpkin, 2008). In Bunch, Eastman, and Moore’s (2007) study, the research showed that grandparents can feel overwhelmed with addressing their own physical and emotional needs. This is due, in part, to parenting with pre-existing health challenges. However, the research also found that many grandparents report deteriorating health because it becomes difficult to interrupt their new responsibilities to seek healthcare for themselves. Furthermore, this same study conducted a questionnaire for grandparents that addressed health concerns. Out of 23...
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