Help grandfamilies

The recent article about a holiday party gathering placed a local focus on a growing national trend - grandparents raising their grandchildren.

Day Staff Writer Deborah Straszheim recently spent some time with members of the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group during their annual Christmas party. The support group provides a chance for these grandparents to discuss the challenges they face and the emotions they confront in starting over with child rearing at a time they expected to be easing toward retirement.

As she reported in a Dec. 16 article, our staff writer learned about the financial and physical challenge grandparents face in providing a home for their children's kids. Layered atop these challenges can be guilt feelings that their decisions or actions contributed to the substance abuse problems that left their child unable or unwilling to be a parent to their children.

Yet these grandparents also talked of the strong, loving bonds formed with their grandchildren.

More than 18,000 children in Connecticut live in homes where grandparents head the household, more than 7,000 of these children have no parent present.

It is not a Connecticut phenomenon. According to U.S. Census Bureau numbers, nationally about 4.9 million children, 7 percent, live in grandparent-headed households, up 400,000 from a decade ago. Of that total, nearly 1 million have neither parent present and the grandparents are responsible for their needs.

On the positive side, this is typically a much better alternative for the children than placement in foster or institutional care. Joette Katz, the current commissioner of the Department of Children and Families in Connecticut, has made it a department policy to work harder to keep children within extended families when parents cannot fulfill their responsibilities.

Given these demographic realities, lawmakers need to assess policies to assure these grandparent-led families have the supports and resources necessary. Some regulations, for example, can penalize grandparents by stripping financial supports available to the children when in the care of a low-income mom, but lost when grandparents assume control.

By caring for these children, these grandparents perform an important service and their needs should be considered.

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