More grandparents than ever are stepping up to take care of and raise their grandchildren. There are many different reasons grandparents are assuming the role of caretaker.

It may be due to the death or absence of the children’s parents, the financial situation of the parents, or because of an unsafe home due to physical abuse or drug/alcohol abuse.

Raising grandchildren brings many rewards, including giving the children a sense of security, developing a deeper relationship with them, and being able to keep them with their family instead of possibly going into foster care. However, this can also be a very difficult venture in a grandparent’s life.

One big obstacle that grandparents often face is how it affects them financially, especially if there is only one person raising the children. Of the 2.7 million grandparents raising their grandchildren in the US, 1 million of them are being raised by a single grandmother.

Another obstacle grandparents face is finding access to proper resources for the children and for themselves. Children being raised by grandparents have unique needs that may require the use of therapists, school counselors and health care providers. Grandparents and grandchildren may benefit from support groups and individual or family therapy to share their feelings and gain support.

One event that has greatly contributed to the spike in so many grandparents raising grandchildren is the opioid epidemic. Parental substance use is the reason 40% of grandchildren go to live with a grandparent.

Children coming from homes where drug use is present are often exposed to traumatic events, abuse and neglect. This exposure often leads to behavioral issues in children. Statistics show that on average, children whose grandparents have custody of them are more likely to have behavioral and emotional difficulties than those being raised by their parents.

It is very important that grandparents raising grandchildren take care of themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually, as it is vital to their overall health and their ability to raise healthy children. It is also important to acknowledge and accept all feelings, both positive and negative.

It’s difficult to admit feelings such as resentment, guilt, fear, or doubt. It’s natural to have a mixture of feelings when unexpected responsibilities arise in life, but it doesn’t take away from the feelings of love for the grandchildren. It is also important to remember that the grandchildren will have mixed feelings too.

If you are grandparent struggling to find support in your community, you can go to www.aarp.org<http://www.aarp.org>. AARP’s website offers a comprehensive “Grandfamilies” guide with specific information on legal documents, finances, health insurance, education, childcare, and many other things you will need to know to protect your rights and maximize assistance in caring for your grandkids. Other helpful websites include:

If you are unsure what local therapists or support groups are available for you or your grandchildren, ask a Youth First Social Worker at your child’s school (list at youthfirstinc.org) or your primary care physician. Support makes all the difference.

This column is written by Beth Greene, MSW, school social worker for Youth First, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Youth First provides 57 Master’s level social workers to 78 schools in 10 Indiana counties. Over 38,500 youth and families per year have access to Youth First’s school social work and afterschool programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success.

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