Illinois Children Cared for by Grandparents Face Behavioral, Emotional Health Challenges

In this unique study of grandparent-caregiver families, more than two-thirds of grandchildren exhibited symptoms of depression and emotional or behavior problems in the borderline or clinical range on a standardized measure of children’s behavior. Also, more than a third of grandmothers caring for their grandchildren reported symptoms of depression and even more reported struggling with feelings of stress, frustration, and loss.

What we did

Chapin Hall selected two target study areas in Illinois with a high number of households with grandparent caregivers and 39 grandparents participated in the study. Of the original 39 grandparents, complete interview data was gathered for 38 grandparents. Grandparents answered questions about household configuration, the care situation, the caregiver’s physical and mental health, the children’s physical and mental health, and the caregiver’s and the children’s use of mental health services. Fifty mental health providers were also surveyed about their work with grandchildren being raised by grandparents or grandparents who were raising their grandchildren.

What we found

Health and wellness were challenges for both grandparents and their grandchildren:

  • Both grandparents and grandchildren have emotional or behavioral problems that warrant clinical intervention. However, they are not using services to address these problems.
  • Nearly four-fifths (79%) of grandparents reported having at least one health problem; 57% of grandchildren were reported to have at least one health problem.
  • Mental health providers reported at least one challenge when working with the grandchildren. The most frequently reported challenges were failure to see the need for services, not showing up for appointments, and lack of or difficulty with transportation to the appointments.

We also learned about care arrangements and the economic situation in these households:

  • Just over half of the children had a guardianship arrangement with the caregiver, and 29% had been adopted by their grandparent.
  • A quarter of the grandmothers were employed at the time of the interview, and another 26% stopped working when they assumed care of their grandchildren.
  • Half of the grandmothers said that assuming care of grandchildren meant making changes to their lifestyle and making sacrifices to meet the children’s needs.

What it means

More clarity is needed around expectations about mental health services, the effectiveness of the types of services accessed by these families, and the “fit” between the needs of families and the interventions offered by providers.

Interventions need to be family-focused and accessible. This includes having interventions that are affordable, close to home, and accommodate family needs, such as childcare and multiple schedules.

Recommended Citation
Smithgall, C., Mason, S., Michels, L., LiCalsi, C., & Goerge, R. (2006). Caring for their children's children: Assessing the mental health needs and service experiences of grandparent caregiver families. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago.
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