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
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
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.
The situation quickly becomes bewildering because the
grandparents, or other relatives, may not have legal
papers that would entitle them to enroll children in
school or obtain health care for the children.
Finding legal advice from an affordable attorney and
also from an attorney who is well-versed in the law that
is involved in kinship families is not easy. These
legal difficulties often drive relative caregivers
“underground” and this is one of the main reasons that
those who work with kinship families think there are far
more kinship families than the research shows.
Finances also are an issue. Financial assistance
and health insurance for the children may be available
from public agencies for the children; however, even
with this assistance, many relatives find
the extra people in the household really squeezes the
budget, to say nothing of the crowding that may occur in
the house itself.
But all these difficulties pale beside the stress that
the family “entanglements” cause the caregiver and
Caregivers have told the following: the children’s
birth mom will tell the five grandkids they don’t have
to do what the grandmother says because she (the
grandmother) is not their mom; the child’s birth mom
will tell the child she’s coming to visit that
afternoon, but never shows up; the children’s parents
will threaten to call the public child serving agency
and get the agency to “take” the kids if the caregivers
don’t do what the birth parents say; the birth parents
will refuse to cooperate with custody papers and,
therefore, necessitate the caregivers hiring an
attorney; and, on and on.
It certainly is true that some birth parents bow out of
the picture and let the relative caregivers establish a
stable home for their children. But at the very
least, most caregivers have stress connected with the
very fact that it is adult members of their own families
who are choosing not to care properly for the children.
And, of course, the relatives worry about the birth
parents’ substance abuse, lack of employment, violence
and all the numerous things that accompany dysfunction.
The Positives of Kinship Caregiving
Given all the above, is there anything positive about
being a kinship family. YES!
No doubt, grandparents and other relatives would prefer
to have the birth parents taking good care of the
children; but, since they are not, the grandparents
often feel they have no other choice but to step in to
do the parenting and it’s not all bad.
Many relative caregivers are natural nurturers.
They are very happy to have the “pitter patter of little
feet” in the house.
The relatives may find they worry less about the
children when they are living with them. They know
what the kids are doing, with whom and when.
Some simply enjoy children and enjoy participating in
the activities that involve children – sports, scouts,
coloring, reading stories, children’s movies, etc.The
relatives may realize that they have special skills such
as teaching, carpentry, music, cooking and other
talents that they can pass along to the children.
Because of their life experiences and maturity, they may
be well-equipped to help a child grow in all ways,
On some level, the grandparents may feel, rightly or
wrongly, that they are “making up” for the mistakes they
made with their own children. They may feel that this is
their chance to “do things right.” They know that
they are providing a safe, orderly, drug-free
environment for their grandchildren.
And, happily, sometimes, the relatives see a change in
the birth parents that leads to the children being able
to live with their biological parents.
One Community’s Response
For the more than 6,000 families in Lucas County in
northwestern Ohio, in which relatives are raising
children, the Kinship Navigator Program exists to guide
them to services. The Program is sponsored by the
Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, Inc., located
in Toledo, with funding from Lucas County Job & Family
Services and the Family Caregiver Support Program.
Most of the kinship famlies locally and throughout the
nation are “informal” arrangements, meaning they have
had no contact with the courts or any child-serving
agency. However, Lucas County Children Services
does place many children with relatives. Both the
Kinship Navigator Program and Lucas County Children
Services refer families to each other’s services as
appropriate and both sponsor education and training
programs for kinship families to which all families are
The Kinship Navigator Program guides relatives to:
- Financial assistance from Job & Family Services,
regardless of the family’s income;
care coverage for the children, regardless of the
advice and counsel;
- Behavior counseling and parenting advice;
- Recreation and enrichment activities and programs; and,
- Education and support.
The Kinship Navigator Program also facilitates a monthly
educational/support meeting which features a free light
supper and programs for adults, teens, elementary-aged
children and toddlers.
Most professionals who work with children agree that
placing children with family members is a response by
government that serves the families and the taxpayers
well. It is far less costly, in terms of tax
dollars, to have children in “kinship families” than in
foster care; and, most professionals agree that, in
general, the children will do better when living with
members of their own families. With the help of
the Kinship Navigator Program, many caregivers are able
to find ways to not only take care of the children, but
to take care of themselves also.
Top Ten Reasons It’s Not All Bad With Children In the
- You’ve started to laugh out loud again.
- You know you are doing the best you can to take care of
the children in your family.
- Attending the kids’ baseball games is fun and keeps you
- Because the children are living with you, you know
they’re safe and are being kept with family and not in
- You’re getting a lot more exercise.
- You’re sleeping a lot better.
- Ice-cream cones are once again an after dinner treat.
- You know that 56 is the answer to 7 times 8 without
having to pause to think.
- You really do love having the kids around.
- Your caregiving may be the single most important reason
that the children will grow up with positive outlooks
and armed with the ability to lead productive lives.
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