Grandparents Raising Grandchildren?

     LANSING, MI — Imagine your daughter and her husband, just had a beautiful baby girl. You see your daughter’s family four times a year because they live in Washington, D.C. They both have flexible jobs and you have the ability to travel because you are retired and on a fixed income.  With only one person to take care of you are considering selling your home and moving to a retirement community.
   Right before your daughter and her husband are about to visit, you get the tragic news that on the way to work they have perished in an automobile accident.  They left behind a beautiful rambunctious 1 year old and you are listed as the guardian.
     According the AARP, across the United States there are more than 6 million children being raised in households headed by grandparents and other relatives; 2.5 million children are raised in households that do not have a parent present.
     Kinship care is the provision of full-time nurturing and protection of children by adults other than parents who have a family relationship bond with the children. Most of the time, this nurturing and protection is provided by grandparents when original families are torn apart by economic hardship, substance abuse, domestic violence, incarceration, death, mental and physical illness, AIDs, and child abuse and neglect.  More recently, military deployment keeps many grandparents working well beyond retirement.
     Margaret McLouth, 67, and her husband, Fred, are taking care of their 15 year old grandson, Charles “Chuck” McLouth.  She belongs to the Allen Neighborhood Center Kinship Support Group.
       Ms. McLouth stated that Chuck has been living with her since he was a baby so she does not know anything different.
    “We have had him since he was three weeks old.  He just blends right in with the family.  There are 4 people in my home right now but sometimes it has been as high as 10 people.    They are family though… I am used to it,” said Ms. McLouth.
   Her grandson, Chuck, said that a lot of other students ask him why he lives with his grandmother. 
    Chuck said, “Sometimes I get tired of people asking me about it.  I think that my life is fine.  I tell them that I just have had to learn much faster and will be better prepared for life than they are.”
    Volunteer and Coordinator of the Allen Neighborhood Center Kinship Support Group Francine Watts, 54, knows the dynamics of multigenerational raising of children.
   Ms. Watts said, “I have been taking care of other family members for over 21 years due to various illnesses and economic hardship due to military deployment.”
    She said, “There was a need for a support system.  A lot of grandparents needed help finding legal, health and counseling services.  When I took custody of my granddaughter 21 years ago there wasn’t a kinship care program.  I took care of her with my limited financial resources.  I needed someone to talk to.”
     Her main issue was that a lot of the children who are in kinship care are in a state of denial especially when a parent is absent due to mental illness, long term incarceration or substance abuse.
    Ms. Watts said, “I hear them saying ‘My Mama is coming back!’ and I want to tell them that it may not happen.  It is painful for the entire family.”
     The kinship support group is currently looking for donations to support their program, which meets the second Saturday of each month from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Allen Neighborhood Center located at 1619 E. Kalamazoo. The attendees have been consistent and about 12 families have been utilizing the services since it started about 5 years ago.
     During the meetings, attendees share concerns related to kinship care.  The attendees also have an opportunity to connect with other kinship families and receive resources about the services that are available to them such as legal information.  During the Saturday meetings there are also educational speakers who provide insight to issues pertinent to kinship care.
     Judy Harrison attends the meetings and also volunteers for the program.  She said that she was elated when she found out about the support group.  She explained that her situation is a little different because her grandchild does not actually live with her but she is responsible for making sure that he gets on the bus and off of the bus for school.
     Ms. Harrison said, “My daughter is a single mother and she works.  There needs to be more resources for parents and grandparents who are responsible for some or all of the care of their grandchildren.”
     Regardless of her daughter’s situation Ms. Harrison explained that she would not have it any other way.
     There are many roadblocks that the group states that it faces including the difficulty in obtaining funds from the state foster care system.  According to the members, grandparents have to open a case file in order to file for monies to assist with the care of their grandchildren. They state that taking care of grandchildren is sometimes emotionally draining because the children may already have emotional, physical or mental issues that need professional care.
    Ms. Harrison added that the family structure has changed and relatives live further away from each other than in the past.  She stated as people move away from their childhood homes it becomes more difficult to maintain relationships.
    Ms. Watts said, “Our group needs more families who have the same issues that we do.  Grandparents who are in this situation do not have to feel alone even if they have a great relationship with their grandchildren.  We need the support system to be in place so we are actively looking for new members and everyone is welcome to join.”