GRANDfamilies – A National Epidemic – One United Way Is Stepping Up

grandfamilies

When we saw this article, we were encouraged to see the United Way stepping in to help grandparents raising grandchildren.  While we applaud this United Way in West Virginia, we wonder how many more are helping grandfamilies.  To read the full article from the Register-Herald of Beckley, W. Virginia

There is a national epidemic that is very apparent in our communities, and that is a new family dynamic that has arisen and that is grandfamilies.

Nationally, over 2.5 million grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren. For every one child in the foster care system, 25 are being raised by grandparents or relatives outside the system. West Virginia ranks second among all states in the percentage of grandparents responsible for their grandchildren. As of 2015, the seven counties in West Virginia served by the United Way of Southern West Virginia had 6,774 households where grandchildren were residing with their grandparents.

Common reasons for grandparents raising their grandchildren are the death of parent, abandonment or neglect, incarceration, substance abuse, unemployment, financial problems, mental illness, divorce, teen pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, abuse or family violence, and military deployment. Challenges faced by custodial grandparents are legal status, financial support, health care/mental health care, school, child behavior, family relationships, support services, fair and equal treatment, and often times dealing with the addiction of an adult child.

Nationally, over 2.5 million grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren. For every one child in the foster care system, 25 are being raised by grandparents or relatives outside the system.

Based on these statistics, United Way saw a great need in our community to provide support for families in these situations and has become a part of the Healthy Grandfamilies Program, which utilizes curriculum developed by West Virginia State University. This is a FREE educational and support program for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. United Way is coordinating the program in Raleigh County and supporting programs in the other six counties. This program offers sessions on 10 unique topics faced by these grandparents — Communication, Parenting in the 21st Century, Family Relationships, Healthcare, and Self Care Literacy, Stress, Nutrition, Technology/Social Media/Cyberbullying, Navigating the School System, Navigating the Legal System, and Family Response to Addiction.

Raleigh County’s first Healthy Grandfamilies class is happening now and ends Nov. 11. We have 13 grandfamilies enrolled who have benefited immensely from not only the information and resources that are provided each week, but from the comfort of knowing that they are not alone in facing the challenges of raising grandchildren on a fixed income, while also potentially dealing with their own shame, grief, and guilt over the fact that their adult children are not able to raise these grandchildren, for whatever reason.

grandfamiliesThe grandparents currently enrolled in the Raleigh County Healthy Grandfamilies Program come from diverse backgrounds, but one thing they do have in common is immense, unfathomable love for their grandchildren. Not one of them would have ever guessed that they would be parenting a second time around, but they get up every day, get their grandchildren ready for school, and make sure these children know they are valued and loved despite any trauma or adverse experiences they have previously faced. These grandparents who have stepped up to the plate to take in their grandchildren in time of family crisis are the unsung superheroes of the opioid epidemic that our region, our state and our nation are facing. For us to be able to offer them support and resources about community programs is a small gift that we can give them for the sacrifices they make every day to ensure the success of our community’s children.

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