The new family dynamic: Grandparents raising their grandchildren

Published: Feb. 27, 2014 at 1:40 AM EST|Updated: Apr. 12, 2014 at 10:55 PM EDT
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Avon Crocker
Avon Crocker
Terry Brooks
Terry Brooks
Terry and Sheri Buie
Terry and Sheri Buie
Leonard Breaux
Leonard Breaux

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - We know the famous families of television, like the Cleavers and the Huxtables. But in television and in real life today's families have new needs and a new makeup of family members.

In the most recent census, bureau statistics show 2.4 million of the nations families are maintained by grandparents who have one or more of their grandchildren living with them.

"They say you spoil your grandkids and then send them home. We spoil him alright then send him to his room," laughs Avon Crocker, grandmother and mother to her daughter's son.

According to Pew Research center analysis one child in 10 in the United States lives with grandparents. Wyoming and Oklahoma are the only two states in the nation with a higher percentage of grandparents not just loving their grandchildren, but providing a life for them as well.

Terry Brooks, director of Kentucky Youth Advocates adds, "We know for instance in the metro Louisville area, the number of grandparents raising grandkids has more than doubled in the last five years."

Parental substance abuse, incarceration, serious physical and mental illness, abuse and neglect, disability, and deployment are just a few of the situations slowly changing the structure of the American family. Grandparents are taking over to overcome whatever despair has stepped in to their son or daughters life.

"In 99.9% of the cases, the reason that little boy or little girl was coming to live with grandparents is that there is some crisis that has happened with their parents," Brooks proclaims.

Grandparents, now parents, Sheri and Terry Buie took over when their 14 year old son and his girlfriend gave birth to their little girl, Lizzie.

"Her mother decided she wanted to go to Kansas and just up and leave all of us," Sheri Buie tensely explains. "Our son didn't have a leg to stand on."

The Buies instantly became part of the national statistics and parents again.

"You don't read headlines. You don't see lead stories on the evening news about it," Brooks stresses.

The challenge for these grandparents, for these families, is affecting our children and the very foundation or our community.

"If anyone gives any thought at all, they know that suddenly taking in one much less two or three grandkids changes the economic environment in a home," explained Brooks.

Leonard Breaux, 73, and his wife, Rita, know the joy and the challenges of raising four grandchildren.

"I know there's a lot of things they don't get that other kids get," said Leonard Breaux, "but they know when Pawpaw's got something they got it too."

There are emotional needs, financial needs, physical needs, legal needs but not much help or support for these grand families.

"It really does call on folks on lots of levels to begin to get our arms around the issue. To think about what those grandparents need in order to support the kids," said Brooks with great urgency.  "The decisions we make today are going to affect how those kids develop. We as a commonwealth and we as a community need to own that this is a new family arrangement."

The needs of grandchildren can seem overwhelming, especially if you are thrust into the role of being their primary caregiver.  It is impossible to cover every concern, however, below are a few tips passed on by AARP that may aid in successful kinship care. The AARP website will give more detailed answers and information.

Here are steps to getting started as a grandparent now serving as a parent to your grandchildren:

1. Make a binder or folder where you keep any important papers or documents related to your grandchild's care so you can find them when you need them.

  • Birth certificates, death certificates (if your grandchild's parents are deceased), marriage records or divorce decrees for their parents.
  • Social security cards or at least the numbers
  • Medical and dental records
  • Power of attorney, custody, guardianship, adoption or other legal papers
  • Consent forms signed by parents for medical care and education ( they may need to be notarized)
  • School papers, such as report cards, evaluations, registration, etc.
  • Proof of your grandchild's income and assets (child support payments, trust fund, etc)
  • Proof of your income and assets (if you apply for public benefits)
  • Citizenship papers for you or your grandchildren
  • Military papers for you or their parents 

2. You should make a list of all local people and agencies you will work with as your raise your grandchild. Keep this list in your binder or folder, and post a copy near your phone.

  • Emergency numbers (911, poison control, etc)
  • Grandparent resource groups and resource centers
  • Family members and friends who can help
  • School, child care or preschool
  • Doctors
  • Dentist
  • Counselors, social workers, therapist
  • Baby sitters or respite care
  • Before/after school programs
  • Youth activity programs (YMCA, YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Scouts, mentoring programs, etc.)
  • Community organizations such as community centers and faith-based organizations
  • Area agency on aging

3. Many communities have programs that will provide care for your grandchild while you do things like go to a doctor, go shopping, go to court or simply get much-needed rest.

  • Check out "morning out" programs or drop-in child care centers that may be in your area.
  • Ask about before and after school programs at your grandchild's school.
  • Line up family, friends, and babysitters.
  • Trade care with other grandparent caregivers.
  • Check out mentoring programs for your grandchild, such as big brothers/big sisters and boys and girls clubs.

Laws regarding grandparent's rights vary from state to state. Kentucky is one of the few states that does not have what is called "authorization laws." As a grandparent in Kentucky if you do not have legal custody, guardianship or adoption papers for your grandchild medical providers and educators do not have to allow you to be part of the process in your grandchild's care.

Below are websites and phone numbers to help you find information for your family with support, legal issues, finances, work, housing and safety, health, education and childcare or family challenges:

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