Grandparents take on the challenge of childrearing in their retirement years
This is retirement for too many of our elders.
A grown child in jail, their spouse unable to cope. Raising multiple grandchildren, and going back to work.
A grown child on drugs, the other parent has vanished, and the grandchildren are dealing with medical and psychological problems from their parents’ opioid use.
Both parents dead. Grandparents themselves unwell. Other family members scramble to step in, caring for multiple generations at the same time.
Last year, Congress found that 2.5 million grandparents nationwide were raising grandchildren, wreaking havoc on finances and affecting health.
“We’ve noticed that the opioid epidemic has played a role,” wrote Lisa Gilbert, case management supervisor with the Wayne County Area Agency on Aging, in an email. “If biological parents are actively using, incarcerated, or deceased, efforts to keep children with family members mean turning to grandparents.”
Allyson Pretty-Hopkins, who runs Grand Love, a Honesdale-based support group for grandparents raising grandchildren, agreed. “Primarily it’s the opioid crisis.”
In the past, parents may have died of disease, or may have left in search of work. But substance abuse in the family changes everything.
On the New York side, Deborah Worden, head of Action Toward Independence in Monticello, is starting a kinship group to help families raising children who are not biologically theirs.
“Substance-use disorder has always been considered a ‘family disease’ and it is very much the case when it comes to the children that are impacted,” Worden wrote in an email. “Whether a parent lost their life to the disease, is incarcerated or are seeking treatment... the children have had to deal with an upheaval in their lives, and grandparents, as well as other relatives, have had to step in and assume a parental role.”
It’s not easy. There can be birth defects or developmental disorders. Abused children are harmed beyond their physical injuries.
The grandparents face challenges too. Pretty-Hopkins said. “Financial security is an issue. Do they go back to work?” The fixed income can only expand so far to encompass additional family.
Another problem: “Keeping up with modern technology,” Gilbert said, “and the ever-expanding world of social media. The difficulty of obtaining important records such as medical and birth certificates.”
Then there is leisure time, which changes too. For one thing, there’s less of it. Friends feel awkward, and some disappear. “There are not a lot of peers raising grandchildren,” Pretty-Hopkins said.
Finally, “the overall stress of raising children again is contributing to physical health decline,” said Gilbert.
Legislators have taken note. In New York, the state Senate has passed bills to help, and many agencies can assist (check out the New York fact sheet at www.grandfamilies.org). In Pennsylvania, state Rep. Steven Mentzer is working on the problem, and Gilbert pointed to advocacy by PA Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski and Acting Secretary of Aging Robert Torres. In Washington D.C. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) co-sponsored the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act. President Trump signed it in 2018.
As the issue grinds its way through government, what else do these families need?
Gilbert, Worden and Pretty-Hopkins agree that counties are doing a tremendous job with the available resources, but here, transportation is needed and people need help getting Medicaid and SSI. Grandchildren sometimes need therapy.
Grandparents keep helping, because there are some serious upsides. “The fact [is] that they can do something for these children,” said Pretty-Hopkins. “They can provide a safe, loving environment.” And because it’s family, and because it’s love.
If you’re a grandparent raising grandchildren, contact the Sullivan County Office for the Aging at 845/794-3000 ext. 0241 or the Wayne County Area Agency on Aging at 570/253-5970. They can direct you to programs that will help.
Groups like Grand Love (call Allyson Pretty-Hopkins at 570/253-5838) connect you with a peer group, and that can make all the difference. In New York, Action Toward Independence can update you on its planned kinship group (call 845/794-4228).