The Unplanned Pregnancy

When relatives take on the full responsibility of a taking care of a child belonging to another family member it is not always easy - especially for grandparents taking on the role of caregiver to a grandchild or grandchildren. 

However, many seniors face this exact situation. And the number of grandparent-headed households in the U.S. is on the rise. 

‘On the Rise‘ 

In 1970, over 2 million American children lived in a household maintained by a grandparent. By 1997, this number had almost doubled to 3.9 million. 

According to the 2000 census — the most recent census containing information on grandparent-headed households — nearly 6 million people lived with at least one grandchild under the age of 18. Of the 6 million, a little more than 2 million were primary guardians. 

The 2000 census figures also showed that most grandparent-headed households are headed by women, 80 percent of grandparents raising children are younger than 65 and 19 percent live below the poverty level. 

‘Special Needs’ 

Raising grandchildren can be both challenging and rewarding due to many factors. 

Because many seniors live on fixed incomes, a new addition to the family can create a financial burden, said Linda Block, of the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Southern Arizona Coalition at the University of Arizona. 

“Many children come under the care of a grandparent following some sort of abuse, neglect or abandonment so they are dealing with issues that lead to special needs and special expenses,” Block told the American Retiree. These “special expenses” are in addition to the cost for basic needs like food, clothing and medical care that come with caring for a child, said Block. 

She added, “Many grandparents take in babies. When you think about the cost of a baby, including diapers, formula, and doctor’s visits, we begin to talk about a lot of money that has to come from somewhere over several years.” 

Realizing the special needs of grandparent-headed families in southern Arizona, the coalition began after a conference held in 1999, said Block. 

Arizona currently ranks No. 4 in the country for the number of grandparent-headed households in the state, she said. 

Groups like the Arizona’s Children Association, the Area Aging on Agency, the Casey Family Program helped pull the coalition together to serve the needs of families in Pima County, one of only 15 counties in the state, said Block. 

The coalition offers everything from information on food stamps to spa nights for grandparents in need of relaxation. 

“We try to teach grandparents techniques on how to deal with the stress,” said Block. 

Stressing out many grandparents are the legal issues involved with caring for a grandchild, she said. 

‘Legal Issues’ 

Grandchild may not be eligible for coverage under their grandparent’s medical insurance, said Block. A grandparent also may not have the right to do simple things like enroll their grandchild in school because they don’t have the necessary paperwork, she continued. 

However, the good news is that more and more federal, state and local government agencies are providing greater support to grandparents. 

Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry signed a bill expanding the rights of grandparents in 2005. Oklahoma grandparents are now able to speak for their grandchildren in court. Eleven percent of Oklahoma children were being raised by their grandparents when the law was enacted. In New York State alone, there had been several bills dealing with issues central to grand parenting before lawmakers at the start of summer 2005. 

The bills include one to amend education laws to allow membership in school-related associations by grandparents. Another bill aims to create a caregiver support program for grandparents and other older adult caregivers. 

New York passed a law expanding custodial options to grandparents in 2003. 

“All children deserve a loving and nurturing home and grandparents are sometimes called upon to play the primary role in the upbringing of their grandchildren,” said New York Governor George Pataki upon signing the 2003 bill. 

Under the New York law, grandparents must now be notified by local social service departments that they have the option of becoming foster parents if their grandchildren are removed from their parents’ home due to abuse or neglect. 

New York City set precedent in early 2005 by constructing and opening affordable housing solely for seniors and their grandchildren. 

The housing is considered the first of its type in the country tailored to meet the special needs of grandparent and senior caregivers. 

“We’ve shown that by being creative, there is a way for us to meet the unique generation-skipping housing challenges some face,” said New York City Housing Authority Chairman Tino Hernandez during the ribbon cutting ceremony. 

The six-story building, located in the Bronx, consists of 50 two to three bedroom apartments, and rent ranges between $300 and $350 a month. In New York City, the average for a one bedroom apartment rent can start at four times that amount. 

‘On the Internet’ 

Pennsylvania is showing support for grandparents by providing services and information on the Internet. The state is the seventh-largest in terms of the number of grandparent-headed households, says the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. 

The department launched “Pennsylvania Grandparents Raising Grandchildren” in June 2005. 

At the time, the state’s Secretary of Aging Nora Dowd Eisenhower said she hoped the site would offer assistance to the number of seniors raising a new family later in life in the state. 

“These older adults are faced with special circumstances that can be both rewarding and overwhelming at the same time, so we hope that they use the resource guide to help them navigate the many challenges of their new role,” said Eisenhower. 

The on-line guide is available at the Pennsylvania Department of Aging website, , and contains information ranging from recreation to teenage pregnancy. 

The federal government also provides information for grandparents on its website

‘Tips and Advice’ 

One of the foremost authorities on senior issues, the AARP, has become a prime source for information on grand parenting. 

The AARP’s “Grandparenting Information Center” offers advice and tips via the Internet. One in 10 American grandparents is a caregiver, says the AARP. 

The online information center, , is regularly used by Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Southern Arizona Coalition staff, said Block, who described the site as containing “a wealth of useful information.” 

The online center provides information that ranges from Attention Deficit Disorder to what to do if a grandchild’s parent it in prison to advice for dealing with a teething baby. The site also offers tips and advice on how to find or start a local support group. 

Block acknowledged that for grandparents raising grandchildren, it’s very important to have a solid network of friends. 

“Reach out to find support groups. If there isn’t one in your community, obtain information on how to get a support group started. Do it for yourself and for your grandchild,” she said. 

- Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Southern Arizona Coalition,

- AARP Grandparents Information Center,