TAMPA BAY — When we think about a grandparent and the role grandparents play it evokes many thoughts of joy, warmth and comfort. Reflections of a touch, warm hug or kiss on the forehead, the taste of a treat from another time, culture or tradition, the sound of a comforting voice, the song or story from times past and a feeling of connection to who we are.
Grandparents bond families by maintaining our sense of culture, traditions, ethnic identity, religion and history. They have long enjoyed reaching the end of the long road to retirement and beginning their new role that relishes taking part in spoiling grandchildren, watching a music or dance recital, or graduation ceremony before leaving for that long dreamed upon travel destination.
The next generation of grandparents will look much different from those previous times. The baby boomer generation is getting challenges from all directions when it comes to family care giving roles.
Many grandparents preparing for their retirement and dreams of leisure activities, traveling and vacationing are stopped in their tracks as they are being asked to take on the full-time long term care of a family member.
Grandparents are younger than previous generations and find themselves caring for their aging parents and now their grandchildren. There are close to 7 million children being raised by grandparents nationally.
The state of Florida ranks among the highest number of children in the care of grandparents and the need is growing. The result of substance abuse, domestic violence, mental illness, homelessness, child abuse and neglect in these worsening economic times are leading child welfare officials to reach out to more and more grandparents.
Nationally, this role is identified as “kinship care,” grandparents raising grandchildren or relatives raising kin. Census data from 2010 continues to track the growing numbers nationally of grandparents raising grandchildren and there are many unique challenges in the next generation of grand parenting.
The prescription pill abuse epidemic in Florida has been well documented in the media outlets and grandparents are coming to the rescue. Law enforcement officials acknowledge that grandparents are often the first to step forward to take on the care of their grandchildren but with that decision many challenges appear.
Grandparents are asked to provide the emotional support and address the often neglected needs of the children such as health care and academics. Grandparents quickly have to put back on their parenting hats and jump back into a role that they retired from so many years ago.
They face new challenges of connecting with the new high tech and pop culture generation of children and teens and the world of the internet. Grandparents are asked to find the strength and stamina to raise infants, toddlers, school age children and teens and many times more than one child.
Grandparents are learning quickly the financial impact in their home and the emotional toll to themselves and their relationships with family and friends.
Caring for grandparents raising grandchildren is crucial. Grandparents raising grandchildren, primarily grandmothers have income that is likely to be at or below the state poverty levels and often have poorer general health in comparison to other women in their age range. These factors impact the level of stress in the home and the likelihood that children will enter the foster care system.
The good news is that there are many wonderful and exciting programs and attention being brought to communities to support grandparents. Throughout the there are caregiver support groups, supportive services and housing programs aimed at grandparents raising grandchildren.
The Tampa Bay area has a wealth of resources to educate and support grandparents such as the Kinship Services Network (KSN), a program of The Children’s Home, Inc. The KSN program funded locally by the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County, The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County and the United Way Suncoast, offers in-home supportive case management to help families navigate and link to the services they need most often, such as counseling, legal assistance, financial aid and public benefits, respite care and emotional support.
KSN offers monthly support groups and family activities throughout the county for fellowship with other grandparents, educational seminars and fun. Caring for caregivers by acknowledging grandparents efforts to save their kin re-ignites the joy and warmth back to their role as a grandparent.