Children Being Raised by Grandparents Often at Risk

There are nearly three million children – that’s two percent of all children – in this country being raised by their grandparents.

The number of children being raised by their grandparents has grown considerably in recent years, from 2.5 million in 2005 to 2.9 million in 2015.1  Although grandparents can provide support and stability in families, the increase in custodial grandparenting in the United States has primarily been driven by the inability of some parents to care for their children,2 and up to 72% of children raised by grandparents have been exposed to at least one adverse, traumatic event.3 In light of rising incarceration rates,4,5 the current opioid crisis,6 and the recent economic recession,7 children who enter nonparental kinship care face a unique living environment and complex relationships that can impact their long-term development.

While that sounds like a great alternative to being raised by their parents, a new study sheds light on the hazards of growing up with grandparents.

For instance, children being brought up by grandmother and granddad are much more likely to have experienced traumatic events that will influence their development, according to the report published online in the journal Pediatrics. Also, children in grandparent-led households are six times more likely to have had a parent or guardian serve time in jail, and four times more likely to have lived with someone who has a drug or alcohol problem. Furthermore, the research found that by school age (6 to 17 years), these kids are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and they are five times more likely to be found to have ADHD during preschool (ages 3 to 5).  

The article, called “Family Well-being in Grandparent- Versus Parent-Led Households,” points out that there are various traumatic and adverse events, besides having a parent in jail or living with a parent who has a substance abuse problem, that children raised by their grandparents commonly experience. These include:

  • Having their family torn apart by divorce or separation (more than four times more common).
  • Observing physical violence between parents or adults (more than four times as likely).
  • Being a victim of or witnessing neighborhood violence (more than twice as likely).
  • Living with someone who was mentally ill, suicidal or severely depressed (twice as common).

Senior researcher for the study, Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Northwell Health's Cohen Children's Medical Center, in Manhasset, N.Y., said that the history of adversity for these children leaves them with "potentially less opportunity" than kids raised by their parents. However, several prominent people were raised by grandparents and were able to overcome diversity to be successful. Among those people are Jamie Foxx, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

"Not everyone is going to turn out to be president of the United States, but we should be careful about painting with a broad brush," Adesman said. "Grandparents who step in and care for their grandchildren are doing amazing work. It's vital they assume these responsibilities when the need arises, and they should all be commended given the challenges they have."

And children being raised by grandparents were more than six times as likely to have experienced three or more of these traumatic events, the study found.

The grandparents are helping raise these kids in very difficult circumstances, Adesman noted.

"We found grandparents had lower education, lower household income and a greater proportion of them were single caregivers," he said. "Those all represent additional potential challenges to grandparents raising their grandchildren."

The good news is that grandparents appear, in general, to be up to the task of raising their grandkids.

"When we looked at measures of coping and asked how well they're handling the day-to-day responsibility, we found the grandparents were coping just as well in terms of their parenting after properly controlling statistically for many of the underlying sociodemographic differences," Adesman said.

To read the original article, go to here.

Written by James Windell, MA

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