Monday, March 16, 2009

Number of grandparents raising grandchildren likely to rise, Georgia State conference reveals

The number of grandparents raising children or helping to take care of children is likely to increase during the current recession, and support for these grandparents is even more critical, experts said this week during a symposium sponsored by Georgia State University.

Georgia State’s Symposium on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren brought together more than 100 experts and advocates for grandparents from around the United States and Canada to address challenges facing these caregivers and those who work for them. The symposium was sponsored by the National Center on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.

The most recent U.S. government estimates show that 2.5 million children are being raised by their grandparents. In Georgia, more than 164,000 children live in households headed by grandparents, and more than 98,000 live in households with grandparents without either parent present.

Advocates and researchers of grandparents caring for grandchildren are concerned that as states look for ways to trim budgets, needed financial and health care resources — especially critical as many grandparent care givers live close to or in poverty — may be cut.

“This will be a very difficult economic time, and it will last for a while. In the face of the downturn, we need to be very proactive for our families,” said Debbie Whitley, director of National Center on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and associate professor of social work at Georgia State.

Increasing the urgency is the economic situation, which will likely lead to more grandchildren being raised by their grandparents or living in households where grandparents aid in care giving, said Esme Fuller-Thomson, associate professor of social work at the University of Toronto and speaker at the symposium.

“Adding to several risk factors, there is a growing issue of unemployment and foreclosures of homes, as a lot of adult children are moving back home because they don't have a house anymore, or they don't have a job,” Fuller-Thomson said.

There is historical precedent, also, for grandparents raising grandchildren during tough times, she said.

Fuller-Thomson explained that African-American grandparents in 1940 — just before the United States’ entry into World War II, while the country was still reeling from the Great Depression — were taking care of grandchildren at higher rates than today, where nearly 29 percent of African-American women over 45 will take care of a grandchild for more than six months at some time in their lives.

Georgia State has long been an advocate for grandparents raising grandchildren. Since 1995, Project Healthy Grandparents has provided resources for grandparents raising grandchildren, and has served more than 635 families, including over 1,451 children.

The National Center on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren was founded in 2001 to inform service professionals, decision makers and the general public on the unique social and health service issues confronted by grandparents raising grandchildren.

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