Raising grandchildren is a life-altering event. Also referred to as “kinship care,” the act of grandparents taking on parenting roles is often necessary when parents are unable to fulfill their duties. This may be due to physical or emotional illness, financial distress, divorce, drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, death, or other extenuating circumstances. Sometimes, care may be temporary. Other times, grandparents may assume a full role to become long-term caregivers. Think this is rare? Think again. Nationally, an estimated 5.7 million children under the age of 18 are living in grandparent-headed households. And, this number has dramatically increased over the last 25 years, per the Illinois Department on Aging.
Opening one’s home to grandchildren in need is a noble goal. Not only does it provide the necessary stability for them, but it strengthens the bond between generations. Assuming the total caregiver role may not be easy for some grandparents and there may be hurdles. Those already living in senior housing that excludes children may face eviction. Aging and age-associated disabilities may create challenges. Financial responsibilities may also stretch or cut into one’s retirement savings. And some grandparents may give up the social freedoms that come with retirement. However, the sacrifices that grandparents make to raise healthy and happy grandchildren are well worth it. There is much joy in providing comfort, care, guidance, security, and love for young family members in need.
There are many ways in which grandparents who are struggling with care of grandchildren can find support. For example, some working grandparents may seek assistance through employment. They may also gain community support via local school districts, religious groups, local or large charities, and through government-run agencies. The Child Welfare Information Gateway promotes the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, youth, and families by connecting child welfare, adoption, and related professionals as well as the public to information, resources, and tools covering a variety of child welfare topics. The Administration for Children and Families works to promote the economic and social well-being of children, families, and communities.
In this tough economy, it is sometimes difficult for families to make ends meet. Grandparents on fixed incomes who are raising grandchildren are particularly vulnerable to financial instability. Finances aside, following tragic circumstances, such as illness, death, or incarceration of a child, grandparents often lovingly open their homes to raise grands in need. In addition to financial challenges, grandparents may need physical and emotional support as well. Here is where friends and other family members can step up to serve, perhaps by helping with childcare, running errands, or delivering an occasional meal to lighten the load.
When raising grandchildren, it’s wise to seek legal and tax advice as guardianship choices may affect benefits and eligibility for various programs. Additionally, Social Security will pay benefits to grandchildren when the grandparent retires, becomes disabled, or dies, if certain conditions are met. Qualifying disabled grandparents may also apply for Social Security Disability Insurance through the U.S. Social Security Administration. Note that the government offers programs to address issues with housing affordability, food insecurity, childcare, health insurance, utilities, and more. Grandparents may also qualify for tax benefits such as child tax credit and dependent care credit depending upon circumstances.
Life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes, and often quite unexpectedly, grandparents must step up to guide their grandchildren and even jump into the parenting role when needed. In the case of the latter, not only do grandparents play a vital role in the stability and safety of their grandchildren, but they also provide a healthy environment in which a child can live, learn, grow, and flourish.