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When Family Ties Turn Into Entanglements:
Relatives Raising Children

By Judy Paschalis

(Page 1 of 4)

It’s not an isolated situation — in fact, it’s quite common to find grandparents and other relatives raising children in their extended families.  In Ohio, it’s estimated that 10 percent of the households with children under 18 years of age have grandparents as the primary caregivers of the children, according to research by Ohio Department on Aging and Bowling Green State University.  And that’s just grandparents. Other relatives— aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sisters – have also taken on the parenting in many families.  Some who work with “kinship families,” as they’re called, say they think the 10 percent figure is conservative.

More often than not, the children living with relatives came to live with their grandparents or aunts or uncles without the involvement of a child welfare agency.   In other words, grandmother went to visit and found the house a mess, the kids alone, and Mom and Dad nowhere to be seen.  Grandma packed up the kids and they’ve been with her ever since. 

For most relatives who are thrust into raising children, it’s a complex and, many times, bewildering situation – the family ties have turned into entanglements.

It’s complex for many reasons, not the least of which are the guilt and anger that occur when grandparents must step-in because their own children cannot or will not take care of their offspring. Imagine it’s your adult child who would rather go out partying than take proper care of the baby.

The primary reason children are being raised by relatives is drug and alcohol abuse by the birth parents.  This leads to neglect, if not outright abuse, of the children.  (Death, illness, domestic violence, unemployment and teen pregancy are also reasons, but substance abuse overwhelmingly tops the list.)

Naturally, these neglected children also are filled with complex emotions.  They are most likely angry and may feel that the situation is their fault. Most of all, they are deeply confused, sad and depressed by what is essentially abandonment by their parents.  These feelings lead to temper tantrums, inability to focus, aggressive behaviors and other problems such as trouble making friends and achieving in school.  Also, many of the children have learning disabilities or delays because of the chaotic life they have led, or because they have physical disabilities such as fetal alcohol effects, or deficits because they were not nourished properly or stimulated as infants.

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