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Facts about children being raised by grandparents

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The phenomenon of grandparents and other relatives raising children is not new. However, the number of children being raised by someone other than a parent has increased dramatically over the last 25 years.

5.7 million children under the age of 18 are living in grandparent headed households.

211,919 children under the age of 18 are living in grandparent headed households
101,951 grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren
40,152 of these grandparents have been responsible for their grandchildren for 5 years or more;
61,799 of the grandparents have been responsible for their grandchildren 4 years or less.

[2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimate  U.S. Census Bureau]

  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse
  • Neglect, Abuse, and Abandonment
  • Death of a Parent
  • Divorce
  • Unemployment / Poverty
  • Parental Incarceration
  • Teen Pregnancy
  • Welfare Reform

57.2% are White
22.0% are Black
27.7% are Hispanic or Latino
49.6% are White
33.3 % are Black
27.4% are Hispanic or Latino

Median family income:   $53,046

Median family income for families with grandparent householders and/or spouses responsible for grandchildren: $49,717
Median family income for families with grandparent householders responsible for grandchildren with no parent in the home:  $33,192

Grandparents between 30 to 59 years: 71,609
Grandparents 60 years and over:  30,342


Grandparents and other relatives often begin caring for children with little or no warning or preparation. They may have difficulty accommodating children in their current residences for the following reasons:

  • The residence may be too small;
  • Those who live in senior housing that excludes children may face eviction;
  • Those who live in unsafe neighborhoods may be unable to relocate due to afford ability;
  • The presence of children may violate lease agreements;
  • Residences may have safety hazards;
  • If caregivers have disabilities, relocation may be an issue;
  • Residences may not accommodate children with disabilities; and/or
  • Relocation may be an issue regarding school enrollment.

School policies may pose obstacles for relative headed families. Some of these obstacles include:

  • Inability to enroll children without proof of legal guardianship;
  • Charge of additional fees for out of district enrollment;
  • Ineligibility of children with special needs for an individual education plan; and/or
  • Lack of access to progress reports, education plans and school records due to "informal custodial" arrangements.

Many relatives provide care for children without legal custody or guardianship. Litigation is costly. Many legal assistance agencies do not litigate family law cases. Many relatives do not pursue custody or guardianship for financial reasons or out of fear of angering the parent(s) and losing their relationship with the child(ren). Without legal custody or guardianship the relative caregiver may have difficulty enrolling the child in school, obtaining medical information or treatment, or accessing benefits for the child.

The stress of caring for children can be overwhelming, especially if the caregivers are older or dealing with personal health problems. Many children suffer from severe physical, emotional and behavioral problems which make caregiving difficult. Contributing factors include:

  • Prenatal drug or alcohol exposure;
  • Sexual and/or physical abuse; and/or
  • Feelings of abandonment causing emotional and behavioral problems.

Relative caregivers provide stability and permanence for children, often without extended family or community support. They have stepped forward to care for children whose own parents are unable or unwilling to do so – often at tremendous personal sacrifice. Respite care is either unaffordable or non-existent. Since many of these children suffer from emotional, behavioral, and physical problems, relatives are reluctant to leave them in the care of others who may not have the expertise to deal with physical or behavioral problems. Their peers do not understand why they have taken on this responsibility. They can no longer enjoy or sometimes afford to do things socially. The support system is not there and caregivers are isolated. Respite care is vital in strengthening the family, preventing abuse, and supporting the efforts of caregivers.

Return to Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.