Grandparents raising grandchildrenAug 31, 2020 12:03PM ● By Carole Ann McKelvey
Local seniors face challenges parenting grandkids
If you’re a grandparent raising grandchildren, you’re not alone. According to AARP, more than 5.8 million children in the U.S. live with grandparents. On the Western Slope, many grandparents are taking on the job of parenting once again despite their own physical, economic and emotional challenges.
Grandparents often find themselves in this position because their sons or daughters can’t handle the duties of child-rearing due to mental or physical health issues, addiction challenges or other hurdles.
Mariah Emond, chief operating officer of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in Montrose, said that about 10 percent of children removed from their homes locally are placed in kinship care, with grandparents being the primary relatives willing to care for them.
“Occasionally, a child will end up with another extended relative, like an aunt or uncle,” said Emond, “but they often end up permanently with grandparents who love their grandchildren and want to do the best for them.”
Regardless of how they come together, many kinship families face similar difficulties, such as navigating the welfare system, establishing legal guardianship and moving past trauma.
While some studies report that grandchildren do well or are unaffected by the unconventional parenting situation, data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health found they were more apt to behavioral issues, including anger and anxiety. The study also found that grandparents raising grandchildren were more likely to have their own physical and mental health problems, to be poorer than average, and have less education.
A local issue
Delta resident Virginia Knob has cared for her 13-year-old grandson and 16-year-old granddaughter for the majority of their lives.
“The first two years of their life they spent pretty much with their mom and dad,” Knob said.
Then their parents split up, and the children bounced back and forth between Knob’s daughter, who has her own mental health challenges, and their father. When her granddaughter called her in tears saying, “I have no place to go. Can I come to your house?” Knob sought custody to become their permanent caregiver.
“The hardest part is not having any financial support,” said Knob, who shares their mobile home in Delta with her adult son and disabled husband.
Grandparents can go to court and be awarded or promised child support, which may or may not materialize. Some find themselves having to seek outside support through government programs, but there’s often no subsidy funding for grandparents raising grandchildren. This is where nonprofits such as Families Plus have stepped in to help.
Families Plus is a Delta-based nonprofit, which was founded to help parents and grandparents raise healthy children during economically difficult situations. The organization reports that 15 percent of those served are raising grandchildren.
Worth the hardships
Most retirement incomes aren’t meant to accommodate the needs of growing children. As a result, many seniors who find themselves caring for their grandchildren full-time may fall into poverty.
Jackie Ballard, a retired special education teacher living in Hotchkiss, stays busy raising her grandchildren, ages 4 and 6. Although she has full custody, she receives no child support; instead, she depends on Temporary Assistance for Needed Families (TANF) and whatever funds she comes across.
Ballard, 64, sought custody of her grandchildren when she found herself at her daughter’s house on a near daily basis to get her grandchildren up and ready for school.
“They were dirty and hungry,” said Ballard. “The kids were being moved all over the place and were traumatized.”
At one point, they were camping out with their parents. Eventually, Ballard was faced with a choice: Either the kids would be split up into foster homes, or she’d have to get permanent custody.
Caring for grandkids when you’re supposed to be enjoying your retirement years is hard. For Ballard, the upside is seeing them thrive and be happy.
“My grandson told me, ‘I’m going to grow up and be a country singer, Grandma, and buy you a new house!’” she said.
Resources for grandparents raising grandchildren
• CASA for Mesa County (Grand Junction) 242-4191 | www.casamc.org
• CASA of the 7th Judicial District (Montrose) 249-0337 | www.casa7jd.org
• Mesa County Human Services 241-8480 | www.humanservices.mesacounty.us
• Montrose County Human Services 252-5000 | www.montrosecounty.net
• Delta County Human Services | 874-2030 | www.deltacounty.com/7/human-services
• Families Plus 874-0464 | www.familiesplus.net
• AARP Guide for Grandfamilies www.aarp.org/relationships/friends-family/info-08-2011/grandfamilies-guide-gettingstarted.html