Grandparents to the rescue
BY JAIA LENT
The phone rings at 3:00 a.m. You answer in a daze. It’s a social worker from the Department of Child and Family Services. Your two young grandchildren were found home alone without their parents. You must pick them up or they will be sent to foster care.
You’re shocked and frightened and have a million questions, but you answer immediately, “Of course I’ll take them.“
This seemingly unlikely scenario happens to grandparents and other relatives every day. Whether it’s the death of a parent, mental health problems, substance abuse, or even military deployment, 2.6 million grandparents have stepped in to care for their grandchildren when the children’s parents cannot.
2.6 million grandparents have stepped in to care for their grandchildren when the children’s parents cannot.
Many grandparents have little or no warning and no time to plan. For others it happens more gradually. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s a major life change. Instead of saving for retirement, you’re saving for college. Your fixed income is now stretched to cover the cost of diapers and formula. Instead of going to the movies and dinner with friends, you’re driving the children to swim lessons and shopping for school supplies.
You know how to provide a loving and safe home, but how will they get health care? How will they get to school?
You’re grandparents. You know how to provide a loving and safe home for your grandkids, but how will they get their health care? How do you arrange counseling to help them deal with the trauma that brought them to you? Are there funds to help you with your expanded grocery bill, or cover the costs of school fees? Can you enroll the children in the school near your home or find help with transportation to keep them in their school an hour away?
How do you begin? Advocates and other caregivers recognizing the challenge of this unexpected role are working to create a network of support services for families like yours.
Here are a few key first steps and resources:
- Find out if there is a kinship navigator program in your area: Some states and localities have programs called kinship navigators to help connect grandfamilies to services, benefits, and supports in the area.
- Connect with others in situations similar to yours: There’s no substitute for talking to people who’ve lived through this. Find out if there is a support group in your area or connect with other grandfamilies online. Consider joining 1000 other grandfamilies and advocates attending the 5th National GrandRally in Washington DC on May 10, 2017 to raise awareness with policy makers about the needs of grandfamilies.
- Learn about benefits and laws in your state or local area: Benefits and laws affecting grandfamilies vary by state. Learn what’s available in your state. The Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center offers user-friendly information about state laws.
- Get educated about your legal options: Learn more about the legal care and custody arrangements that may be available to you as the caregiver or guardian of the child. Find information about legal help.
- Make self-care a priority: When the emotional, mental, and physical needs of your grandchildren become first priority in your life, it’s easy to stop caring for yourself. But you can only care for the children if you are alive and healthy. Look into ways to find regular respite. Is there a neighbor or family member you trust who can take the kids for a few hours one or two times a week? Learn about whether professional respite care is available nearby. Consider whether a support group or counselor would be helpful to you.
Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center: A database of laws, policy information, stories and resources. In May 2017, this website will include links to newly updated program resources and grandfamilies fact sheets for every state.
Generations United– Home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, www.gu.org provides helpful fact sheets and resources covering issues from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Social Security, to guides for grandparents and other relatives raising children with disabilities.
National Kinship Alliance for Children
ElderCare Locator: 1-800-677-1116, www.eldercare.gov
Helpful Articles/Books for New Grandfamilies:
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Guide to Getting Started
You join families across the nation who are helping children to thrive in grandfamilies. With your love and support, you can look forward to your grandchildren joining the thousands of grand success stories of children in grandfamilies.
About the Author
Jaia Peterson Lent is Deputy Executive Director of Generations United, a national organization dedicated to improving lives. Home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, Generations United is a leading voice for issues affecting families headed by grandparents or other relatives.
For more from Jaia…