Story URL:
Story Retrieval Date: 11/23/2014 8:43:30 PM CST

Top Stories

"The Favorite" by Georgios Iakovidis/Wikipedia Commons

Though children raised by grandparents show differences in socio-emotional functioning and academic performance, these factors may be attributed to crisis situations rather than an inherent problem in child-raising techniques.

Children raised by grandparents arrive with family tragedies that can impact development

by Renee Park
Oct 27, 2009

Related Links

Illinois support groups for grandparents

Support groups exist for grandparents raising grandchildren in the Illinois area. They allow seniors from similar backgrounds converse about issues facing them as primary caregivers of their children’s children.

Linda Waycie, a former leader of a grandparent support group in Illinois, recommends attendance in these meetings because it can give these seniors a sense of solidarity.

Topics like nutrition and monitoring Internet habits of grandchildren are covered, she said. 

Barb Kearns, 75, has been raising her grandson in their Arlington Heights neighborhood for the past eight and a half years. She became his primary caregiver after the sudden death of her daughter.

Raising her 16-year-old grandson, Brian, has presented the retiree with a unique set of challenges but she feels a great sense of accomplishment in watching him grow into a young musician, she said.

"He has special needs, ADHD and sensory problems, [so] it's been hard," she said. 

But his self-confidence as a trumpet player is growing, she said, and seeing him receive an award for most improvement in his school's marching band helps affirm a sense of pride for both of them.

"Raising children nowadays is so different from [how] I raised my children," she said. Raising Brian "helps us keep up with the younger generation [with technology] like iPods and computers. It keeps you moving, [from] football games and parent-teacher conferences to basketball games and watching the marching band," Kearns said.

More than 4.5 million minors are living with a grandparent according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Out of this total, about 2.4 million children are being raised primarily by grandparents and the numbers keep rising.

In Illinois, more than 200,000 children live with a grandparent as their primary caregiver, according to the Illinois Department of Aging.

The challenges are evident in studies such as one conducted by Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and published in the journal, Applied Developmental Science. The study reported a gap in reading achievement for children from the ages of two to about 5.5 years old when a custodial grandmother in a low-income neighborhood was raising them. Such neighborhoods in cities that include Chicago, Boston and San Antonio, had large minority populations. The study based findings on analysis of community statistics. 

“[Preschool age] kids who were being raised by custodial grandmothers had worse reading achievement [when] compared to others" with similar economic backgrounds in traditional families, said Laura Pittman, an associate professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University and co-author of the study.

These differences, however, may result because the children are victims of a family crisis that landed them in a grandparent's care in the first place. These situations can include a parent's incarceration in prison, alcohol or drug abuse, or a parent's death, according to the Illinois Department of Aging.

For adolescents, there was a different pattern, said Pittman. In another study she conducted and published in the Journal on Research on Adolescence, academic achievement levels, such as math and reading, were not significantly impacted by grandparent guardianship.

But socio-emotional functioning was adversely affected, she said. Socio-emotional functioning allows a teen to develop into a caring and non-violent individual. It contributes to feelings of self-worth and self-esteem, so the higher a person’s socio-emotional functioning, the less likely he will experience periods of sadness or be aggressive with others, according to Pittman.

“They had higher rates of externalizing problems. [They’re] getting in trouble at school more…more delinquent actions outside of school,” Pittman said.

Many stressors can contribute to these findings, the least of which may be the child-rearing techniques of grandparents. Grandparents are usually doing the best they can under the circumstances. Physical, emotional, and behavioral problems of these children may be more attributable to factors such as feelings of abandonment or prior instances of abuse before entering the grandparents' care, according to reports from the Illinois Department on Aging.

Often limited incomes of  retired grandparents can contribute to the stress on children and caregivers both. In Illinois, the median family income for grandparent caregivers remains at low income levels, ranging from $18,000 to $25,000, according to the Illinois Department of Aging.

Rachel Dunifon, an assistant professor at Cornell University, pointed out that in general, it’s hard to make a comparison between children being raised by grandparents and those being raised by their parents.

“The general difficulty that arises is that kids are different in a whole variety of ways,” Dunifon said. Lower test scores, for example, can be results of the household having less money and poorer school systems, she said.

Grandparents should honor themselves in taking responsibility for their children's children. This sentiment is best expressed in, "Starting points for grandparents raising grandchildren: a resource guide with information and services for grandparent caregivers," a online resource guide compiled by the Illinois Department on Aging.

"Parenting is a difficult, emotional job even in the best of situations," the guide advises. "Commend yourself for what you are doing---[you are] making a difference in your grandchild's life by giving her or him the chance to be a safe, loved, and nurtured child."

View Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Groups in a larger map