Kentucky has an unusually high rate of “kinship care” compared with other states. More than 60,000 children in Kentucky live with a grandparent or relative. Another 8,200 children live in foster care.
Experts blame the high number of “orphans” on the growing use and abuse of heroin. Heroin addictions and overdoses have reached epidemic levels in the state. Many prescription drug abusers turn to the cheaper alternative heroin when unable to obtain or afford addictive opioid prescriptions. In January, emergency crews responded to 695 heroin overdose cases in Louisville alone—an average of 22 calls a day.
When parents are addicted to drugs, most times grandparents and/or relatives must step in and rear the children.
Grandparents also become primary caregivers for grandchildren when their grown children become ill, disabled, or die. Other reasons include: parents who aren’t able to rear children due to domestic violence, mental illness, homelessness, incarceration, abuse and/or neglect, divorce, military deployment, and/or parental irresponsibility.
Hardships grandparents may face
Grandparents may be elderly, suffer from chronic illnesses and poor health, and/or disabled. They may lack the strength, stamina, and mobility needed to rear a child. At least a quarter of these grandparents in Kentucky deal with their own disabilities.
Rearing grandchildren also means a drastic change of lifestyle for older adults, oftentimes interrupting or canceling retirement plans. Grandparents may have downsized into a smaller home and now find they need more living space for the extra children. Grandparents may feel angry and resentful for being placed in this difficult and demanding position. They have already raised their children, and they know well the stress, exhaustion, and challenges of caring for a child 24/7, year-round. They may not want to start over.
Grandparents may also be stretched financially. Some live in poverty; others, on a fixed retirement income. The estimated cost of raising a child from birth through age 17 is $233,610—not including pregnancy or college-related expenses (Dept. of Agriculture). In Kentucky today, 25 percent of grandparents rearing grandchildren live in poverty. Twenty-eight percent of these older adults are over the age of 60.
A traumatized, abused, or disabled child may need special medical help, medications, and expensive counseling and therapy. Grandparents must also make complicated legal decisions that require extensive paperwork and can be financially draining. Legal arrangements may include adoption, guardianship, foster parent status, and/or caregiver’s authorization. These senior adults may not qualify for federal or state assistance.
Parenting grandchildren is a tough job with unique challenges. The arrangement can cause financial, physical, emotional, medical, relational and legal difficulties for older adults in their “empty nest” years. Church leadership and members of the congregation can be a huge support, help, and encouragement to this special, and often overlooked, church group.
How your church can help
- Match grandparents with professionals who can walk with them through the maze of medical and legal paperwork that they will face as they become primary caregivers for grandchildren.
- Offer financial resources to grandparents who live in poverty or on a fixed income.
- Set up childcare arrangements in the church and/or after-school (if only for two or three hours) to give grandparents a much-needed break.
- Search out church, community and federal programs that can offer help and support.
- Help in practical ways: babysitting, delivering meals, transporting to doctor/counseling appointments, selecting and buying school supplies, etc.
- Stay in close touch with grandparent caregivers, pray for and with them, get them involved in church programs that will help, support, and encourage them and their grandchildren.
- Start a grandparent support group that meets on a regular schedule and brings together grandparents rearing grandchildren.
- Encourage church families with children to “adopt” a grandparent-grandchildren family, including them on fun events, vacations, shopping trips, etc.
In the United States today, almost 7.8 million children live in homes where grandparents or other relatives are the householders, with more than 5.8 million children living in grandparents’ homes. Nearly 2 million children live in homes with other relatives. More than 2.5 million grandparents take primary responsibility for these children. In most homes, neither of the children’s parents is present. (AARP)
- A good article to read about Grandparents’ Rights in Kentucky: https://www.thespruce.com/grandparents-rights-in-kentucky-1695957.
- For a list of Kentucky resources, see Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: http://www.raisingyourgrandchildren.com/States/Kentucky.htm.
- For numerous support services in Kentucky, see: http://chfs.ky.gov/default.htm.
- For more information, see: Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center: http://www.grandfamilies.org.
- To download A Handbook for Kentucky Grandparents and Other Relative Caregivers, see: http://chfs.ky.gov/NR/rdonlyres/60001AD0-7CF2-4267-85BE-EA7A2326E49F/0/HELPAHandbookforKentuckyGrandparents.pdf.
Denise George, author of more than 30 books, is married to Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School, Samford University.