By BARBARA?E. RILEY, Ohio Department of Aging DirectorIt has been said that every time a child is born, a grandparent is born as well. These days, the role grandparents play is becoming increasingly significant. Instead of occasional visits from their grandchildren, many grandparents have taken on the role of primary parents. Sometimes referred to as kinship caregivers, these grandparents take in and raise children who can no longer live with their parents for a variety of reasons, including substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty and teenage pregnancy.
Older relatives often are the glue that holds families together. This is truer in Ohio than nationwide. According to a 2005 U.S. census estimate, 88,000 Ohio grandparents are the primary caregivers to their grandchildren - accounting for an estimated 10 percent of all households with children. The national average is six percent.
The average age of a grandparent raising a grandchild is 55, though nearly one in six is 65 or older. Half of these grandparents provide care for more than one grandchild. More than half of the children cared for by grandparents are age six or younger, according to the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Task Force Report.
Experts agree that kinship care represents the most desirable out-of-home placement option for children who cannot live with their parents. It reduces the pain of not being able to live with their parents, while allowing children to maintain their sense of belonging. Being cared for by a grandparent helps to preserve the family and enhance children’s ability to identify with their family’s culture and traditions, while being a very rewarding and bonding experience for grandparents.
However, grandparents can face formidable challenges. In addition to the ongoing stress and responsibility of raising young children, these grandparents must cope with modest retirement incomes and lack of access to public assistance. A report to the Ohio General Assembly found that while grandparents express some concern about their own health and finances, the overwhelming majority are far more concerned with the health and overall well-being of their grandchildren.
Assistance, both financially and supportive, for kinship caregivers does exist.
Kinship Navigator programs are state initiatives that help caregivers find their way through state and local support systems. They provide information, referral and follow-up services to grandparents raising children to link them to the benefits and services that they or the children need, such as low-cost child care, respite care, training related to caring for special needs children and legal services.
For more information about the Kinship Navigator Program, contact your county department of job and family services office.
More than half (51 percent) of Ohio grandparents live in households with incomes less than $30,000. The Kinship Permanency Incentive Program offers financial support for minor children in the custody of grandparents or other kinship caregivers, providing up to $2,000 per child in incentive money over three years to income-eligible guardians after they have received legal custody or guardianship of a child. Eligible families will receive an initial payment of $500 per child to defray the costs of initial placement and may receive $300 per child every six months for 36 months. These incentive payments are in addition to Child Only TANF benefits the families may receive. To qualify, the family’s gross income may not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For more information, contact your local public children services agency or call the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services toll-free help line at 1-866-886-3537.
Grandparents are vital resources for children, allowing them to live in familiar surroundings with people they love. Helping these grandparents by lessening their financial hardship and emotional stress makes sense.