Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: A Long-Term Challenge
According to the American Community Survey, over half of the Illinois grandparents who assume the care of their children’s children do so for longer than 5 years. During this period of time, they must grapple with changes in their own physical and mental health, as well as those of the children in their care.
A Chapin Hall study of grandparents raising grandchildren explores grandparents’ well-being, their perceptions of the children’s well-being and needs, and the degree to which they are both accessing services to ameliorate their problems. The study, Caring for their Children’s Children, includes interviews with grandparent-caregiver families across Illinois.
With regard to the problems of caregivers, those interviews revealed that
- nearly four-fifths (79%) of the grandmothers had at least one health problem, and many had three or more health problems;
- among married grandmothers (almost half the grandmothers in this study), the majority of their spouses (81%) also reported health problems, although a smaller proportion suffered from three or more problems;
- the three most-frequently reported health problems were the same for both caregivers—arthritis, high blood pressure, and diabetes;
- one-third of the grandmothers reported symptoms of depression.
Each grandmother in the study filled out the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), a standardized assessment form, for one child in her care. The CBCL helps to assess children’s competencies and behavioral/emotional problems. In over two-thirds of the families, the results indicated the presence of clinical and/or borderline problems with the grandchild, and many of these problems have implications for the child’s functioning both at home and at school. Specifically,
- One-third of the children had problems with attention.
- Nearly one-third of the children exhibited social problems.
- Over one-quarter of the children showed aggressive behavior.
Grandmothers interviewed for the study expressed the need for services—services for themselves and for their grandchildren. Very few grandmothers were participating in services at the time of the study, and—of those who were not—almost half said that they need or would benefit from services. Despite the fact that nearly half of the grandchildren with emotional or behavioral problems were receiving services, all but one of the grandmothers of the other half believed their grandchildren to be in need of services.
The study showed clearly that grandmothers’ well-being and the well-being of the children in their care were interconnected. Grandparents who reported more depressive symptoms were caring for grandchildren who had more severe emotional and behavioral problems. Although we cannot know how these two circumstances interact, the need for services is pronounced. Yet, caregivers had problems with access to services (such as cost and receiving referrals to services that do not accept the grandparents’ insurance or payment method) and logistics involved in getting to and from appointments, as well as reservations about the effectiveness of services, all of which represented obstacles to participation for grandparents and grandchildren.
With regard to age, the grandparents were fairly evenly split between those over and those under 60. Many had jobs, and needed to maintain them. Three-quarters of the children in their care were ages 6 to 17. When we consider the fact that over half of these children will stay with their grandparents for over 5 years, it is clear that addressing the barriers to accessing services is an urgent and abiding need for these families.