I recently did a Lamplighter presentation in Sedona, AZ for an organization called Kinship Kare of Northern Arizona (KKONA). They provide support for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. As a grandmother myself I couldn't imagine raising a grandchild at my age. Where would I get the energy, the wisdom, the tolerance and all of the other attributes that I thought I had when I was raising my own children? These grandparents were doing this because of a variety of difficulties: a child who was into drugs and incapable of taking care of their own child, a daughter who was irresponsible and felt it was cool to just dump her kids on their grandmother, a son who was at a young age already an alcoholic and didn't seem to know how to take care of himself must less a son. These were just some of the problems that forced the grandparent into the picture. I was not surprised, but nevertheless saddened, to find out that in almost every family of grandparents raising their grandchildren some kind of child sexual abuse occurs, either in the grandparent, the child or the grandchild. The room full of women that I met were strong, capable and responsible people. They were loving and supportive of each other and I was amazed at their sense of humor in the face of the great job they had taken on for themselves. I admired them greatly. After the hour and a half meeting they invited me to have lunch with them which I did. It was fun, racy, outgoing, bonding and definitely informative. I left having made a pledge to myself that I would attend as many meetings as possible.
After coming home I plowed through the Internet looking for facts about grandparents raising their grandkids. Here are just a few for those who, like me, didn't even know an organization like this existed:
- 96,062 children live in grandparent headed households (7% of all the children in the state). There are another 36,720 children living in households headed by other relatives. Of the children living in households headed by grandparents or other relatives in Arizona, 54,833 have neither parent present.
- 52,210 grandparents report they are responsible for their grandchildren living with them: 5% of these grandparents are African American; 39% are Hispanic/Latino, 14% are American Indian and Alaskan Native; 1% are Asian; and 40% are White. 27% of these grandparents live in households without the children's parents present. 74% are under the age of 60; 19% live inpoverty.
Kinship Kare of Northern Arizona offers many services:
- Educational workshops including Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Simulation workshop for agencies
- Support groups: Flagstaff, Munds Park, Sedona, Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Holbrook
- Monthly family activities
- Grandchildren support activities
- Grandparent Mentors to accompany grandparents to hearings, fill out forms and speak on behalf of KKONA
- Volunteer Training of Trainers including Grandparent Mentors and Support Group Facilitators
When I was a child growing up in the Midwest I don't remember ever meeting any grandparent who was raising their grandchildren. Most of the people I knew, if asked about it, would have said, "Why would you need a grandparent to do that? You already have the parent?" In looking at data on the Internet of the change in number of grandparents raising their grandchildren in the 1990's the number of grandparent-maintained households increased 19 percent. Grandfather only families grew by an astounding 39 percent. Families with the children's parents absent also grew rapidly: both grandparents, no parents present families grew by 31 percent and grandmother only, no parents present families grew by 27 percent.
Aside from the previously listed reasons why there is such a dramatic increase in grandparents raising and helping to raise their grandchildren here are some of the nationwide reasons: Increasing drug abuse among parents, teen pregnancy, divorce, the rapid rise of single parent households, mental and physical illnesses, AIDS, crime, child abuse and neglect, and incarceration are a few of the most common explanations offered.
I want to take a moment in this blog to applaud these grandparents for their courage, their intestinal fortitude and their amazing sense of responsibility. May their grandchildren grow up to be a reflection of the strong values imbeded in their grandparents.