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Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Kim Leon, Ph.D., Former Human Development and Family Studies, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia


Many people think of grandparenting as visiting with grandchildren, doing fun things with grandchildren, and providing temporary childcare for grandchildren. Most adults do not anticipate taking on the role of primary caregiver for their grandchildren. However, a growing number of grandparents have primary responsibility for raising their grandchildren. In 1999, according to the census bureau, 1.4 million children were being primarily cared for by their grandparents.


Who are the grandparents who are raising their grandchildren? According to the census bureau, in 1999:


  • 68% were white
  • 60% were female
  • Median age = 57
  • 41% lived at or below the poverty line
  • 58% had less than a high school education

A recent study of grandparents raising grandchildren found that grandparents were raising their grandchildren for the following reasons:


  1. The parent(s) had substance abuse problems.
  2. The parents were unable to care for the child due to neglect or financial or psychological problems.
  3. There was child abuse or domestic violence in the nuclear family.


Grandparents who raise their grandchildren may be under a lot of stress because they face many challenges, including financial difficulties and physical limitations. In particular, younger grandparents, grandparents whose grandchildren had psychological or physical problems, and those with more family problems are more likely to have higher stress levels. Younger grandparents are more likely to be working and raising their grandchildren at the same time, which may account for their higher stress level.


Grandparents who raise their grandchildren are often doing so because the child's parents are not providing adequate parenting. In some cases, grandparents may feel that gaining increased visitation rights or legal custody would benefit the child. Laws relating to visitation and grandparents' rights vary from state to state.


Last Updated 05/05/2009









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