Although the phenomenon of grandparents raising grandchildren is hardly new, it is an emerging social
issue which is garnering a great deal of media attention due to its impact on the welfare of our nation’s most vulnerable
Today, approximately 4 million children live with their grandparents. Further, the literature on this phenomenon
suggests that there are probably many more children in informal care arrangements residing with their grandparents than the
data can capture. According to U.S. census data, grandparents raise 6% of our nation’s children. That’s a lot
of children, 4.5 million to be exact, and the number is growing rapidly.
Between 1990 and 2000, the number of children
under 18 increased by 14.3%; within that same decade, the number of US children in grandparent-headed households increased
by 30%. The data also indicates that grandparent-headed households are twice as likely to live in poverty as other American
Whether because of substance abuse, child abuse or neglect, incarceration, mental illness, or physical illness,
biological parents of these children may not be able to care for them. Their grandparents—most of whom subsist on meager
incomes--are called upon to provide for the basic food, shelter, and clothing needs for millions of our nation’s children.
Due to advanced age, poor health, poverty, minimal education and lack of transportation, these grandparents are typically
unable to provide the grandchildren in their care with much beyond their basic needs. Thus, the children continue to be at
risk because their grandparents often have inadequate resources to raise them.
For the grandparents, the full-time
care of their grandchildren is sometimes a surprise; and almost always a return to responsibilities that they had thought
were long past. Some grandparents are in their thirties or forties, but many are old enough to collect Social Security, and
they have their share of aches and pains, as well as plans that usually have not included taking on childrearing again.
with children can tell you that childrearing is a challenge. The grandparents we serve have already met that challenge once
with their own children, and then are called upon to meet it again with the next generation. The difference this time around
is that they face some unique disadvantages. Most of them are between 55 and 64, and almost 25% are over 65. While intergenerational
families cross all ethnic and socio-economic lines, the growing number of grandparents raising grandchildren is far more likely
to be a person of color and to live in poverty than those who are not.
To meet the costs of raising a second generation
of children, some must begin new jobs after retirement in order to bear the increased financial burden of raising a second
generation of children, while others must leave their jobs to provide childcare for which they cannot afford to pay. If they
are in public housing for the elderly, they may be evicted because the children are restricted from residing in senior homes.
Depending on the communities in which they reside, other benefits may be reduced or eliminated simply because they have undertaken
to raise their grandchildren. This is particularly troubling because the largest number of grandparents raising grandchildren