Grandparents often step up to take on grandchild-raising responsibility, even if that means coping with added physical and financial stress. The new adventure is challenging, certainly, and affecting an increasing number of families.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, 2.6 million grandparents were responsible for raising their own grandchildren. In recent decades, there has indeed been an increase in the proportion of children being raised by their grandparents," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York. "For example, since 1970 there has been more than a 50 percent increase in the percentage of children nationally being raised by their grandparents."

Some of the factors that lead to the situation include child abuse and/or neglect, substance abuse, incarceration, mental health disorders and death of parents from accidents, drug overdose, suicide or illness, Adesman said.

"Grandfamily caregivers often step into this role unexpectedly," said Jaia Lent, deputy executive director of Generations United, a Washington, D.C.-based family research and advocacy group. "They may live on fixed incomes and usually have not been planning to care for a child. The children may have experienced trauma before coming into the care of the relatives, often leading to mental, behavioral and physical health challenges."

"Despite the many potential stresses and challenges, grandparents are often the very best people to care for a child when it is determined that a parent cannot function adequately in this capacity," Adesman said. "In these circumstances, it can be extremely rewarding for grandparents to assume this responsibility, and most grandparents feel that they are up to the job."

 

Care for the caregiver

While they may be ready for the adventure, self-care is critical.

"We remind caregivers the instructions from flight attendants on the airplane: Put your own safety mask on first and then help your child. You cannot help the children if you are too sick yourself to care for them," Lent said.

Look to local family support groups, as well as online support groups for help.

"Grandparents can simply search online for 'support groups' for 'grandparents raising grandchildren' to find local and national resources," Adesman said.

"We strongly encourage grandfamilies to connect with others like them. Support groups can be an incredibly valuable resource for both information and support. Grandparent caregivers have told me, 'My support group saved my life,' " Lent said.

 

Other resources

Growing numbers of resources are available for grandfamilies, such as kinship navigator programs, but they vary greatly by state and locality, Lent said. Visit grandfactsheets.org.

Congress recently passed the Family First Prevention Services Act, which makes federal funding available to states and tribes operating evidence-based kinship navigator programs, Lent said. The Family First Prevention Services Act places new emphasis on family foster homes rather than group-care settings.

For more information, visit RaisingYourGrandchild.org and grandfamilies.org.