Grandparents as Caregivers
Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and according to census figures, about one-fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line. A recent PBS News Hour spotlight on this issue suggests that their ranks are increasing with the number of grandparents raising grandchildren in the United States up 7 percent from 2009. Factors such as the opiate epidemic, military deployment and a growth in the number of women incarcerated continue to bolster this trend.
Many of these grandparents are living on fixed incomes and managing chronic illnesses or a disability. “People who step forward, step forward because there is a crisis in their family and apparently don’t take into account their own limitations,” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto, who has researched grandparent caregiving in the United States. Raising grandchildren takes a heavy toll on grandparents according to a 2018 article entitled This is the Age of Grandparents in The Atlantic. Higher-than-normal rates of depression, sleeplessness, emotional problems, and chronic health problems like hypertension and diabetes; feelings of exhaustion, loneliness, and isolation; a sense of having too little privacy, and too little time to spend with their spouses, friends, and other family members. All of these stressors heighten the pressure put upon those grandparents who assume the role of primary caregiver.
Here in the Merrimack Valley especially, there exists a disproportionately high rate of poverty among grandparents raising grandchildren, with more than 40 percent reporting unmet economic or social-service needs—for themselves or, more often, their grandchildren. As more and more grandparents step into parental roles, support services become increasingly essential. That urgency is exhibited in the bi-weekly Grandparent Support Group hosted at Family Services of the Merrimack Valley’s Family & Community Resource Center (FRC) located at One Union Street in Lawrence. The facilitated bi-lingual group discussions are free and open to to all area grandparents navigating the obstacles associated with raising (or helping to raise) grandchildren. “Here, we welcome all age groups,” notes the group’s facilitator and FRC Family Partner Maggie DeLosSantos. “We have about 10 parents/grandparents attending each session. They really look forward to coming here. These gatherings offer an opportunity to exchange ideas and ask questions – to share struggles and solutions.” Just hearing from others balancing similar responsibilities, people who have been there, can uplift spirits.
Although the burden can be overwhelming, helping to raise grandchildren also affords grandparents a golden opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child. The FRC Grandparent Support Group offers that forum for recognizing and seizing such opportunities. “The content here in our group is great. But, what keeps me coming back is Maggie, our facilitator,” comments Isabel (pictured above at right), a longtime participant. To that, Maggie replies, “I make certain that everyone in the group can stay connected outside of our meetings as things come up back in their homes. It’s great to see how they really do stay in touch with one another.” This week, the group will celebrate these bonds (along with their grandchildren) at the FRC’s annual holiday celebration. “Good friendships have formed as a result of our time together here sharing our experiences,” shares Ms. DeLosSantos with a bright smile as she concludes another productive morning empowering parents to be their best selves as grandparents raising children.
Family Services of the Merrimack Valley partners with the Department of Children and Families to provide the Family & Community Resource Center, located at One Union Street in Lawrence to help families raise children in healthy, stable homes. All services are free and open to all families in Essex County. To learn more about upcoming programming or other offerings at our Family & Community Resource Center, please visit their program page, or call 978-975-8800.
- Assessment and family support planning.
- Peer-to-peer support groups for youth, grandparents raising grandchildren, and “Parents Helping Parents”.
- Life skills workshops for youth, parents and families, such as bullying prevention, financial literacy and behavior management.
- Cultural, social, recreational, and community service activities, including holiday gatherings, bingo nights, and National Night Out.
- Information and referral services.
- English as a Second Language classes.
HelpGuide.org is a nonprofit site also offering grandparents resources, tools and ideas on how to get help and make the most of raising grandchildren.