“Kinship caregivers play a critical role in helping traumatized children to heal,” says Dr. Sarah Springer, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Foster Care, Adoption and Kinship Care.

“By maintaining ties to family, community, and culture, children are spared additional losses. Being sheltered in the loving arms of a familiar adult is an invaluable first step on the road to healing.”

We hate to think that anything traumatic would ever happen to our children or grandchildren, but sometimes circumstances that we would never wish upon anyone prevail upon those we love. Crime, poverty, abuse, neglect, and death often leave children without a safe environment in which to be raised.

A recent report summarizing the effective role grandparents often play in the life of children exposed to trauma shows that grandparents are making a positive difference in many young lives.

The non-profit organization Generations United released the report earlier this week titled “In Loving Arms: the Protective Role of Grandparents and Other Relatives in Raising Children Exposed to Trauma.”

Knowing the Numbers

Approximately 2.6 million children in America are raised by their grandparents alone. Some of these grandfamilies are within the foster care system and some outside of it.

Of the over 426,000 children in foster care, 30% or almost 128,000 of these children are being raised by relatives.

Grandparents and other relatives raising children are twenty times more likely to do so outside of the foster care system than within it.

The report also states that “children in foster care are at least five times more likely to have anxiety, depression, and/or behavioral problems than children not in foster care.”

Understanding the Significance of Adverse Childhood Experiences

The drugs, violence, death, or other circumstances that leave a child in need of new guardians typically create adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. The impact of abuse, neglect, and abandonment do not go away when a child’s parents do.

Many children in foster care have experienced multiple ACEs, placing them at higher risk for behavioral issues and health problems.

In fact, those children who have experienced at least four ACEs in their young lives are twelve times more likely to have health problems as an adult. Sadly, over half of the children in foster care have experienced at least four ACEs.

Embracing the Idea of Grandfamilies

As grim as the numbers sound, all hope is not lost.

Research also shows that grandparents can make all the difference in the world to children who have been traumatized by providing stable living environments with positive, supportive relationships.

When children leave a dangerous or otherwise negative environment and move in with their grandparents, they are less often forced to lose their connection with their siblings, extended family members, and their culture.

Generations United’s research also shows that these children will experience fewer school changes, better physical and mental health, and are more likely to truly feel loved.

Conquering the Challenges of Grandfamilies

Many grandparents that suddenly become the primary caregivers for their young grandchildren find that they are much older than the last time they performed many of the daily tasks associated with child rearing.

These new tasks often use a great deal of time and energy that were previously used for attending to their own health and wellness needs. Schedules, routines, and social engagements are often drastically rearranged.

The added expense of meeting a child’s physical, emotional, and material needs is a challenge for most grandparent caregivers. Many grandparents find their housing to be inadequate for bringing in children, making moving an expensive option that they must undertake. Savings once set aside for retirement often dwindle just to make ends meet with the increased household budget.

Grandfamilies not connected to the foster care system have less access to financial assistance, leaving 25% of all grandfamilies in poverty. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that almost half of all single grandmothers raising their grandchildren live at or below the poverty level.

Learning to Thrive as a Grandfamily

While become the caregiver of your grandchildren can sound like a daunting and challenging course to take, the good news is that there are a number of valuable resources available to help grandparents thrive in their new role.

Support groups, mental health services, and case management programs are available throughout the United States.

Kinship navigator programs are also available. They help grandparents connect to housing resources, health services, financial services, and legal aide.

Research from this study shows that grandparents who do tap into available resources to help them in their role of caregiver produce grandchildren with significantly better social, mental, and health outcomes.

“Relative caregivers are the front line in the fight to protect kids from trauma,” says Jennifer Hastings, who manages Kids Matter Inc’s Foster Healing and Family Connections program. “We need to give them support and resources to help them navigate the challenges of raising children who have experienced trauma.”

Are you a grandparent caregiver? Are you surprised by the findings shared in this report? How would raising your grandchildren effect you financially? Join in the conversation!

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