Grandfamilies: Challenges of Caring for a Second Family (page 2)
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.
Who are these Grandfamilies?
Grandfamilies – whether inside or out of the foster care system – are racially and ethnically diverse, live throughout the country, exist for multiple years, typically have young children and young caregivers, and are more likely to live in poverty and lack health insurance than parent-headed households. Despite this last fact, most of the caregivers in grandfamilies are still in the labor force and own their homes. Understanding these statistics is crucial to designing policies and programs that respond to the families’ strengths and needs.
Grandfamilies are Racially and Ethnically Diverse
- 49% of the 4.4 million children living in grandparent-headed families are white, 32% are black, 2% are Asian, 2% are American Indian and Alaska Native, 0.3% are Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, 9% are of some other race, and 5.4% are of two or more races. Of these children, 21% are Hispanic or Latino origin (of any race) and 39% are white alone, not of Hispanic or Latino origin.8
- Of the 1.5 million children living in other relative-headed families, 39% are white, 29% are black, 2% are American Indian and Alaska Native, 5% are Asian, 0.5% are Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, 20% are of some other race, and 5% are of two or more races. Of these children, 17% are of Hispanic or Latino origin (of any race) and 24% are white
alone, not of Hispanic or Latino origin.9
- Because of the diversity of the families, programs and policies need to be culturally sensitive, written outreach materials
may be needed in two or more languages, and multilingual program staff could be essential.
Grandfamilies Live Throughout the Country
- 46% of all grandparents with grandchildren living in their homes reside in the South, 14% in the Northeast, 18% in the
Midwest, and 22% in the West.10
- Of the 4.4 million grandchildren living in grandparent-headed households, about 42% live in the South, 23% in the West, 16% in the Northeast, and 18% in the Midwest.11
- Grandfamilies are everywhere, and supportive programs and policies need to be available throughout the country.
Grandparents are Responsible for Grandchildren for Multiple Years
- 39% of grandparent caregivers have been responsible for most of the basic needs of
their grandchildren for five years or more; 15% for three to four years; and 23% for one to two years.12
- Because short-term living arrangements frequently extend to long-term when grandparents and other relatives step forward, policies that ensure children do not lose vital time receiving an appropriate and meaningful education and getting the health care they need are essential.
Reprinted with the permission of Generations United. © 2008 Generations United.
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