Grandfamilies: Challenges of Caring for a Second Family
Imagine you’re a child who in the middle of the night is dropped off at grandma’s house to live. Your mom can’t care for you anymore because she’s addicted to drugs. You are glad to be with grandma because it feels safe and comfortable at her house, but you’re worried about some things. Where will you go to school? How will you get your asthma medicine? Can grandma get it for you?
This fact sheet is about "grandfamilies" or families in which grandparents or other relatives are primarily responsible for caring for children who live with them. Reasons causing these grandfamilies to come together include parental substance abuse, military deployment, incarceration, and death. Almost six million children across the country are living in households headed by grandparents or other relatives, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.1
- 4.4 million of these children are in grandparent-headed households. 2
- 1.5 million children live in households headed by other relatives, such as aunts, uncles, siblings, and great-grandparents.3
- 2.5 million children in households headed by grandparents and other relatives have no parents in the home.4
As for the caregivers, about 2.4 million grandparents are responsible for most of the basic needs of the children.5 Similar Census data does not exist for the other relatives, like aunts and siblings.
When parents have been unable to care for their children for any reason, grandparents and other relatives have stepped in as a safety net to keep these families together and out of the formal foster care system. The statistics tell the story. The vast majority of relative-headed families are not in foster care in the formal child welfare system. Only about 126,000 of the children being raised by grandparents and other relatives are in foster care.6 Although this number represents about one-fourth of all children in foster care, it is only about one-twentieth of all the children being raised by grandparents and other relatives with no parents in the home. If less than half of the 2.5 million children being raised by relatives with no parents in the home were to enter foster care, they would completely overwhelm the system. Translated to dollars, if even one million children being raised by relatives were to enter foster care, it would cost taxpayers more than $6.5 billion each year.7
For those families in foster care, access to services, such as school enrollment, is typically easier than for those not in the formal system.
The state generally has legal custody of the children in foster care, so caseworkers and judges ease entry into schools and receipt of medical care. In order to support the caregivers outside the system and their tremendous contributions towards keeping families together, access to resources and services needs to be improved dramatically.
Reprinted with the permission of Generations United. © 2008 Generations United.
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