June 11, 2014 | Vol. 54 No. 24

Family Matters...

It’s all relative

Kinship caregiving is the full-time nurturing and protection provided for children who must be separated from their parents.  Kinship caregivers (also referred to as “Grandparents as Parents”, “Grand-families” or “Relatives as Parents”) come from all walks of life, income levels and races.

While each family’s situation is unique, kinship care families share the critical need for information, services, resources and supports.  The new role of “caregiver” can be overwhelming and the family will most likely experience financial, emotional, health and legal concerns and challenge with regard to their new family dynamic.  

In our community, if you are a relative, raising a family member’s child and experiencing these feelings of frustration and isolation you are not alone.   A report by Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) stated, “Over the past 25 years, the number of children being raised by someone other than a parent has increased dramatically.”  

According to national statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, grandparent(s) are raising over 2.7 million of our nation’s children; and the numbers keep rising. The 2010 Census indicates that in Washington state 42,616 grandparents are primary caregivers of their grandchildren.  This is a 20.5% increase, from the 35,341 grandparents reported in the 2000 Census.  Census statistics for Lake Stevens indicated that in 2010 there were 4,334 families with children under the age of 18.  Over 5% of these families, 232 households were Relative Caregiver families.

Laura Pittman, an associate professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University published a study “Research on Adolescence”.  Her findings concluded that grandparent guardianship does not have significant impact on academic achievement levels, such as math and reading.  There is however, an adverse effect on socio-emotional functioning as it relates to children being raised by grandparents. 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’s findings, “Children being raised by a grandparent, overall, had higher rates of externalizing problems. [They’re] getting in trouble at school more…more delinquent actions outside of school.” 

In over two-thirds of families followed, the results indicate the presence of clinical and/or borderline problems with the child; there was a demonstrated decrease in child competencies and an in increase behavioral/emotional problems.  Specifically, problems with attention, exhibited social problems and/or aggressive behavior. Many of these problems have implications for the child’s functioning both at home and at school.

Many stressors can contribute to these findings, the least of which may be the child-rearing techniques of grandparents.  Child developmental research and studies, contribute to a dramatic change in accepted parenting practices over the generations. There is also an irrational yet embedded fear that circumstances that their grandchildren experienced is related to the notion that the grandchild’s parents made bad decisions because they provided ineffective parenting of their children; the parents of the grandchildren they are now raising.  Behavioral, emotional and social difficulties are more likely attributable to factors such as feelings of abandonment or prior instances of abuse before entering the grandparents’/family caregiver’s care. Many children in the care of a grandparent, or another family member, are victims of a family crisis that landed them in a grandparent’s/family member’s care in the first place. These situations can include a parent’s incarceration in prison, alcohol or drug abuse, child abuse and/or neglect, or a parent’s death. Children will always carry with them the responsibility of loving their parent(s) and often times may not understand why they cannot be with them full-time.  This can cause feelings of shame, blame and failure for a child whom cannot grasp the reason for the familial shift.  

Snohomish County Vision 20/20 identifies another common trend; increased incidence of employees performing family caregiving activities in addition to their jobs. There is not only a spike in the number of employees caring for older family members; there is an upsurge in kinship caregivers - especially grandparents raising grandchildren. Many employees fall below the poverty line due to caring for several generations at once. This family dynamic, referred to as the “Sandwich Generation,” contributes to stresses and pressures of the caregiver that can also affect health, work performance or job retention.

Grandparents and Family Caregivers should honor themselves in taking responsibility for their children’s children and children in other family members’. It is important to realize that Grandparents and Family Caregivers are doing the best they can under the circumstances.   It is our responsibility, as a community, to commend “second time parents” for making a difference in the lives of their grandchildren and other relative children by providing this population of our community children a chance to be a safe, loved, and nurtured.

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