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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Parents By Default Growing Numbers Of Children Raised By Grandparents

Beverly Vorpahl

(From For the Record, July 15, 1997): Times, places wrong: A Sunday In Life story on grandparents raising grandchildren gave incorrect times and locations for support group meetings of Relatives Raising Relatives. The group meets the second and fourth Tuesday of the month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at St. John Lutheran Church, 2 W. Third. On the first and third Wednesday of the month, the group meets from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the Washington State Division of Children and Family Services building, 1425 N. Washington, in Spokane.

One of the many happy privileges a grandparent has is to hand a squalling newborn grandchild back to mom or dad.

In today’s America, however, some grandparents don’t have that luxury. They find themselves as surrogate parents with no one to soothe the baby but them - no matter how upset he is or how frazzled they might be.

Their empty nest has been filled with a second brood of chicks.

About 4 million children are living with grandparents today. The Spokane-based support group Second Timers has a mailing list of 200-plus. The organization’s newsletter alerts subscribers to child-rearing classes and offers encouragement and networking for those who find themselves back in the throes of parenthood.

Through groups like Second Timers and Relatives Helping Relatives, grandparents (and aunts and uncles raising their siblings’ children) learn they aren’t alone.

They have become reluctant members of a unique fraternity whose membership keeps growing. It’s up 30 percent from 1994, according to statistics kept by the American Association of Retired Persons.

The cause of this burgeoning ‘90s phenomenon?

Sometimes, according to the AARP report, it’s because a parent is arrested for child abuse or other crimes and is in jail. Some parents are dying or have died from AIDS or other illnesses. Maybe they can’t find steady work; maybe they live on the streets.

Often, when young teenage girls experience the realities of motherhood, they can’t shed those responsibilities fast enough.

But it’s drug abuse among birth parents that is the common thread for most grandparents repeating a portion of life they thought was behind them, said Karen Licklider, a social worker with the state’s Children and Family program in Spokane.

Of 50 cases in which Licklider placed children in the care of a surrogate parent, only one was not drug-related.

If the mother’s drug habit addicts her baby while it’s still in the womb, the resulting neurological problems can become a living hell - for the baby and those who raise her.

Should she be born drug-free but live her first few years in a drug house, there are other problems, including emotional or sexual abuse by strangers who frequent the house, buying and using drugs, Licklider said.

“We see some really, really damaged kids,” she said. “It’s a grandparent’s nightmare and a societal nightmare.”

Becoming late-life caregivers is not easy, but it’s to the children’s advantage if a relative takes them in.

Licklider has placed about 40 percent of her cases with relatives; she wishes it were 100 percent.

It’s less frightening for children to be placed in a relative’s home where they know the people and are loved, Licklider said. And, since biological parents are apt to have a better relationship with relatives than strangers, children and parents are more likely to be reunited one day.

Grandparents are usually more than willing to raise their child’s child, said Betsy Blake of the Washington State Children’s Home Society in Spokane. While it can be rewarding, it isn’t easy.

There are life-changing aspects to consider: Grandparents looking forward to retirement suddenly find their day-to-day calendars filled with Scout meetings, parent-teacher sessions, soccer games, music lessons…. There’s homework to oversee, unending mounds of washing and ironing, more groceries to buy and cook …

It places an enormous strain on the grandparents’ budget. Nationwide, more than half the grandparents raising grandchildren have an income of less than $20,000 a year.

And, because forms seldom include a box to check off for “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren,” financial assistance is not easily available, according to the AARP survey.

Even if a grandparent works, most employee health insurance policies exclude children in kinship-care arrangements, especially informal ones.

Washington state’s Department of Social and Health Services has the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program, which helps low-income grandparents raising their grandchildren with money for rent, medical coupons and food stamps.

If a child is a state dependent when a relative assumes care, the state will continue to provide for the child as before, plus reimburse attorney fees incurred if the relative elects to become the legal guardian.

If grandparents adopt their grandchild, they are entitled to the same state and federal subsidies as a birth parent, including Social Security and disability provisions.

Available federal assistance varies, depending on whether grandparents formally adopt the grandchild or assume kinship care, foster care or guardianship, according to a spokesman with the Grandparent Information Center in Washington, D.C.

The center tells inquiring grandparents what avenues are open to them and what financial help they can expect, depending on their age and the age of their grandchild. The center does not provide state-by-state information but does direct callers to their local office of social services or Social Security.

The Grandparent Information Center is continually building a database of support groups across the nation to provide referral services in each city.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: GRANDPARENTING HELP Grandparents raising grandchildren can find help at the agencies and organizations listed below. Relatives Raising Relatives, a program of the state Department of Social and Heath Services. Contact Karen Licklider: 456-6314. Meets the first and third Wednesdays of each month, 9-10:30 a.m., at the St. John Lutheran Church, 2 W. Third. The Second Timers support group meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, 7-8:30 p.m., at the Children’s Home Society, 4315 S. Scott. Contact Betsy Blake: 747-4174. Ask to be included on the mailing list which tells of meetings and gives helpful hints. State office of Aging and Adult Services, Olympia; contact Hilari Hauptman, (360) 493-2559, or (800) 422-3263. United Grandparents Rearing Grandchildren, a statewide organization headquartered in Renton, Wash.; contact Vivian Weers (206) 271-3397. “Legal Guide for Grandparents,” by Northwest Women’s Law Center; (206) 682-9552. Grandparent Information Center in Washington, D.C., provides resources and referrals; (202) 434-2296, weekdays, 6 a.m.-2 p.m. In North Idaho: There is no specific agency in North Idaho; inquiries should be directed to Spokane’s Relatives Raising Relatives, above.

This sidebar appeared with the story: GRANDPARENTING HELP Grandparents raising grandchildren can find help at the agencies and organizations listed below. Relatives Raising Relatives, a program of the state Department of Social and Heath Services. Contact Karen Licklider: 456-6314. Meets the first and third Wednesdays of each month, 9-10:30 a.m., at the St. John Lutheran Church, 2 W. Third. The Second Timers support group meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, 7-8:30 p.m., at the Children’s Home Society, 4315 S. Scott. Contact Betsy Blake: 747-4174. Ask to be included on the mailing list which tells of meetings and gives helpful hints. State office of Aging and Adult Services, Olympia; contact Hilari Hauptman, (360) 493-2559, or (800) 422-3263. United Grandparents Rearing Grandchildren, a statewide organization headquartered in Renton, Wash.; contact Vivian Weers (206) 271-3397. “Legal Guide for Grandparents,” by Northwest Women’s Law Center; (206) 682-9552. Grandparent Information Center in Washington, D.C., provides resources and referrals; (202) 434-2296, weekdays, 6 a.m.-2 p.m. In North Idaho: There is no specific agency in North Idaho; inquiries should be directed to Spokane’s Relatives Raising Relatives, above.

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