Throughout history grandparents have had a role in raising their grandchildren. About 7.8 million children currently live in grandfamilies. Grandfamilies are diverse and come together for a variety of reasons-including job loss, out of state employment, military deployment, divorce, deportation, illness, death, substance abuse, incarceration, or mental illness. Grandparents or other relatives often take on the care of children with little or no chance to plan.
There are several challenges grandfamilies face. Some of the most common are housing, financial, education, and legal. Many caregivers lack a legal relationship to their children and cannot access educational enrollment, school services, or health care on their behalf. Others may have a legal relationship, but taking on sudden caregiving responsibilities often means they do not have suitable housing. Caregivers are also often in their prime retirement savings years and rather than save for their retirement, they find themselves providing for their grandchildren with no plan in advance. A significant number of grandparents have already retired and are supporting themselves and their grandchildren on fixed retirement incomes. Over one in five of these grandparents live below the poverty line.
Despite these challenges, research confirms that children fare well in the care of their relatives. Compared to children in non-relative care, they have more stability, are more likely to maintain connections with brothers and sisters and preserve their cultural heritage and community bonds. There are programs designed to assist grandfamiles although accessing these programs can be a challenge. Federal and state benefits including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing and child care assistance, Medicaid, Children's Health Insurance Program, Social Security and Medicare can provide relief to some grandfamilies. Tax benefits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), can also be an important sources of support. If you need help determining whether you qualify for these programs or need help applying, call the Agency on Aging at 1-800-994-9422.