Grandparents become primary parents
One of the joys of grandparenting is said to be the fun of spoiling the children then sending them home, but an increasing number of children are making their home with their grandparents. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, the percentage of all U.S. children under age 18 living in grandparent-headed households rose from 3.2% in 1970 to 3.6% in 1980 and leaped to 4.9% in 1990 and 5.5% in 1997. According to 1997 U.S. Census population surveys, 21% of these grandparents are over age 65.
In California, the 1990 U.S. Census recorded 493,080 children living in households headed by their grandparents, comprising 5.4% of children in the state age 18 and under. If the 1990 prevalence rate of 5.4% remains constant, projected over the next 25 years, there will be at least 784,000 children living with their grandparents in the state in 2025. With the proportions of both elderly and youth expected to grow in California in the 21st century, this trend is likely to continue if not rise ( see pp. 11 and 55 ).
Alameda County health and nutrition advisor Mary Blackburn set out to determine the distribution of grandparent-headed households among California counties. Blackburn analyzed the 1990 U.S. Census data and found that in San Francisco County, 10% of children lived with grandparents, the highest rate in the state; the next highest rates were found in Imperial (8.6%), Los Angeles (7.18%) and Alameda (7.12%) counties.
“No one has ever looked at the numbers to see how many grandchildren are cared for by their grandparents,” Blackburn says.
She hopes UC Cooperative Extension can use these data to develop funding for programs that address the special needs of the children and caretakers in these living arrangements.
“Many grandparents report feeling emotionally, physically and financially devastated by these added responsibilities,” says Blackburn, who has worked with groups of grandparents who have assumed parenting roles.
Grandparents are often drafted as caretakers in the event of the parents' death, drug addiction, unemployment, homelessness, incarceration, abandonment, neglect, abuse or lack of child care.
Although these grandparents may be experienced parents and willing to take on the responsibility, they may not be up to the physical demands of the job. In a group of 98 grandparents Blackburn worked with in Alameda County, 81% reported chronic health problems.
Meredith Minkler, a UC Berkeley public health professor, co-authored a study that found more than 50% of custodial grandparents had trouble doing heavy housework, 41% with climbing stairs, 39% with walking more than six blocks and 17% with moving about inside the house. For these people, lifting an infant or toddler could exacerbate a physical problem.
A survey of 121 grandparents at a statewide conference in 1996 showed that 60% of the children they were tending were under age 10, 15% of the total were 2 years old or younger. The grandparents reported that more than half of the children had physical and emotional problems.
“UC Cooperative Extension specialists and advisors from eight counties are seeking funding to provide grandparents at risk and their grandchildren with education and support services,” Blackburn says. “Our goal is to reduce isolation and enhance their nutrition, health and well-being.”
Family and consumer science advisors hope to provide grandparents with guidance in parenting, nutrition and family resource and money management.
Blackburn has national and state-by-state data, as well as California data, which have not yet been published. She intends to work with the Alameda County Planning Department again to analyze the 2000 U.S. Census data and compare them to the 1990 prevalence rates.