The Growing Need for Support
With an increasing number of grandparents stepping up to raise their grandchildren, there is a growing need for support programs and services tailored to this unique family dynamic.
According to recent statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, over 2.5 million grandparents in America are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. While raising grandchildren can be an immensely rewarding experience, it also comes with a unique set of challenges that many grandparents are unprepared for when the role is unexpectedly thrust upon them.
Programs that offer resources, guidance, and community can make a tremendous difference for grandparents navigating this new parenting journey later in life.
Key Areas of Support
There are several key areas where grandparents raising grandchildren can really benefit from specialized support and services:
Taking on the full-time care of grandchildren can place extra financial strain on grandparents, many of whom are retired and on fixed incomes. Programs that provide assistance with legal services, accessing public benefits, subsidies for housing, medical care, and more can help ease the monetary burden.
Some nonprofits even have hardship funds or targeted scholarships for grandparents in need.
Peer Support Groups
Connecting with other grandparents going through the same experience is invaluable. Support groups provide a judgment-free space to share challenges, swap parenting tips, find referrals and resources, and build a community.
Support groups can meet in person, online, or both. Intergenerational groups that include children’s programming can provide mutual support for all ages.
Counseling and Therapy
The emotions surrounding assuming this new role can be complex. Grief, trauma, resentment, sadness, and more may surface. Access to mental health support and counseling helps grandparents process their feelings and enables them to be fully present as caregivers. Age-specific counseling teaches coping skills for both children and seniors.
Being “on duty” 24/7 as a full-time caregiver can be draining. Respite care programs give grandparents a temporary break so they can recharge. Some respite programs involve sitters coming to the home.
Others are centered around “grand family camps” where grandchildren stay in a supervised environment for days or weeks, allowing grandparents time to rest.
Navigating the legal intricacies of custody, guardianship, adoption, and more can be confusing. Access to attorneys familiar with grand family law helps ensure all paperwork and custody issues are handled appropriately. Legal assistance protects both the children and grandparents.
Raising children again means ensuring doctor’s visits, medications, therapies, IEPs, and more. Programs that help grandparents understand current pediatric health best practices, insurance options, and care coordination empower them to make informed choices.
Workshops on topics like car seat safety, CPR, first aid, and normalizer childhood development prepare grandparents for health incidents and milestones.
National and Local Program Options
There are numerous national programs and local community services available to support grandparents raising grandchildren. Here are some prominent options to explore:
As part of AARP’s overall resources for seniors, Grandcare Support offers a free handbook, support groups, respite care assistance, and more through regional offices.
This national nonprofit provides grants to local agencies for grandfamily programs and services. Their Relatives as Parents Program (RAPP) locates customized resources by state.
Their National Center on Grandfamilies offers issue briefs, program guides, webinars, conferences, and policy advocacy for grandparents raising grandchildren.
Local Area Agencies on Aging
Contact your regional Area Agency on Aging to find grandparent support services and programs nearby. Many coordinate support groups, counseling, respite care, legal help, and more.
State Foster Care Agencies
Grandparents through the foster system may qualify for financial assistance, training programs, and other services. Reach out to your state foster agency to learn more.
YMCAs, recreation centers, senior centers, churches, and other community hubs may offer grandfamily programming. Inquire about support groups, counseling, free activities, childcare assistance, and more.
Various nonprofits and charitable foundations assist grand families at local and national levels. Search online or ask social workers for referrals to nonprofits providing relevant services.
Connecting online with other grandparents can provide camaraderie and advice. Search Facebook for regional, state and national groups for grandparents raising grandchildren.
Making the Most of Support Programs
Here are some tips to help grandparents get the most out of available support programs and services:
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help or inquire about financial aid if you qualify. These programs exist to support you.
- If a support group or program isn’t a good fit, keep searching until you find one that meets your needs.
- Tap into respite care options so you can take guilt-free breaks and prioritize your health. The breaks will ultimately allow you to be more patient, energetic, and engaged with your grandchildren.
- Let service providers know what would be most helpful—they can likely customize offerings to your family’s needs.
- Get on email lists, follow social media, and sign up for newsletters to stay on top of available support program options as they develop over time.
- Take advantage of free or reduced-cost legal assistance to formally solidify care arrangements and protect both you and the children.
- Don’t be afraid to lean on caseworkers, social workers, and therapists for advice on navigating available services. They can help point you in the right direction.
A Rewarding but Challenging Role
Stepping up to raise grandchildren is one of the most selfless and meaningful things grandparents can do. But to do it well, grand families need specialized support.
Seeking out programs and services tailored to your family’s specific needs makes all the difference in reducing stress and enhancing confidence on this caregiving journey.
With an attentive support system in place, grandparents have the resources they need to cherish their time with their grandchildren while also taking care of themselves.