Grandparents and relative caregivers
"We're very limited in what we can really do to help them…because of the income guidelines and the legal barriers and that sort of thing. We see a lot more grandparents involved in kid's lives, but it's a lot harder to help them because of the legal barriers."
"We run into something else with these grandparents, and that is that many times the children that they're taking care of have behaviors that are way beyond their scope of coping. A lot of defiance issues, and there doesn't seem to be anything in the community that helps them with those children."
— comments from service provider participants in various focus groups
Adults over 60 are increasingly becoming primary caregivers to grandchildren or other relative children. The 2000 U.S. Census reported that more than 5.5 million grandparents co-resided with at least one grandchild, and that 42 percent of those (nearly 2.5 million) considered themselves to be "currently responsible for most of the basic needs" of these grandchildren.  In Texas, almost 450,000 children (7.6 percent
of children in the state) live in grandparent-headed households.  There are more than
150,000 children living in households headed by other (non-parent) relatives (2.6 percent of all children in the state).  Seven percent of respondents to the Aging Texas Well Indicators Study reported that they are the primary caregiver for children under age 18 and almost half (44 percent) have been providing care for five years or less. More than half of those providing care to grandchildren have no legal designation or custody of the child, other than relative status. 
Many of these relative caregivers, also referred to as "kinship caregivers," often become surrogate parents as a result of divorce, crime, child abuse and neglect, the rise in
single-parent households, illness, or substance abuse among the middle generation. Grandparents face issues related to school systems, finances, health insurance, managing difficult care, disability, and often need assistance in legal matters involving custody, guardianship, and conservatorship. Grandparents and other kinship caregivers often lack information about available benefits and support services needed to fulfill their caregiving role. Many are reluctant to seek services for fear of bringing unwanted official attention to their non-traditional and often legally unrecognized family situations.
To address these specific needs, community-based organizations such as AAAs
provide resources, support groups, and services that are tailored to the unique needs of
grandparents and relative caregivers. However, the Aging Texas Well Indicators Study
reports that 73 percent of grandparent caregivers do not use support services, and 63
percent are unaware of the resources available to them through AAAs. 
With an estimated more than 600,000 children in Texas during any one year who (for at least some part of that year) are cared for by a relative who is not their parent,  the importance of recognizing kincare and the specific challenges these relative caregivers face is a growing need. Most caregivers step into these roles unexpectedly and are
not prepared for the financial, emotional, or logistical challenges of providing care. Grandparent caregivers often spend down their retirement savings and are forced to give up their jobs to raise grandchildren. Nearly 20 percent of the children being cared for by grandparents are living in poverty, with higher incidence of physical, mental and learning disabilities, and a third have no health insurance. 
Some measures have been taken to recognize the role of grandparents raising grandchildren. In 2006, the definition of "grandparent or relative caregiver" in the Older Americans Act was amended to include "those 55 years of age or older caring for a child to whom they are related by blood, marriage or adoption."  Grandparents or relative caregivers caring for children with severe disabilities were also included
as a "priority population" for NFCSP services. Federal law allows up to 10 percent of NFCSP funding to be used to provide support services to grandparents or older relatives who are raising relatives' children. 
The Texas Kincare Task Force, a collaboration of state and local partners and kinship caregivers, works to address legislative, educational and program development for kinship caregivers throughout the state. The task force is currently working on a power of attorney for kinship caregivers, designed to help deal with legal issues that are often troublesome for grandparents or relatives raising children who are not their
own. The task force, with the help of Texas A&M University, also supports the website Grandparents Raising Grandkids,  which provides caregivers with information about legal services, support groups, and other helpful resources.
Though there are many programs to help support kinship caregivers, making caregivers aware of them remains a challenge. In Texas, Child Protective Services (CPS), a division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services offers a range of information through its Kinship Program. With the support of the Casey Foundation, the Kinship Program helps match caregivers with community supports and services, and assists
with tasks such as navigating the court system, among others.
For families that are not a part of a formal system such as CPS, outreach can be an even greater challenge. Many AAAs, such as the one serving Bexar County, have taken steps to reach these caregivers in community settings, such as public schools. Through these local and familiar settings, the AAA is able to better identify kinship caregivers and provide information on available supports and services. The Bexar County and Texoma AAAs both have programs specifically designed to address the needs of kinship caregivers.
Raising grandchildren and/or other relative children poses a specific set of complex obstacles to these kinship caregivers. Focus group participants made the following suggestions to reduce the negative effects of these obstacles and provide support to this substantial group of informal caregivers:
- Consider the continued expansion of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
(TANF) program to support grandparent caregivers.
- Focus group respondents reported a need to expand beyond giving only a one-time cash payment of $1,000, and a need to expand the definition of caregiver.
- Increase awareness of TANF to ensure those who are eligible apply.
- Support the expansion of rights for kinship caregivers in areas such as medical consent, standby guardianship, and custody proceedings.
- Promote the use of NFCSP funding designated for serving grandparent caregivers to encourage new and improved connections between the aging network and providers who specialize in serving these unique caregivers.
- Examine the feasibility of programs such as the one in Washington, D.C. that pays grandparents – rather than foster care — to provide care to the grandchildren.
- Consider expansion of innovative programs, policies, and practices that allow AAAs to assist grandparents and relative caregivers such as:
- Bexar AAA partnerships with school districts to identify and provide information and resources to kinship caregivers,
- The San Angelo Grandparents Raising Grandchildren conference, and partnerships with Headstart and local school districts, and
- AAAs use of legal assistance funds to provide support to grandparents.
- Simmons, T. & Dye, J.L. (2003). Grandparents Living With Grandchildren: 2000. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population Division.
- AARP Grandparent Information Center. (2007). Texas: A State Fact Sheet for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from www.grandfactsheets.org/ doc/Texas07-final.pdf.
- Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. (2009). Aging Texas Well IndicatorsSurvey, Overview Report, 2009 . Retrieved July 15, 2009, from www.dads.state.tx.us/news_info/publications/studies/ATWindicators2009.pdf
- Texas Kincare Taskforce (n.d.). Texas Kincare Primer. Retrieved August 7, 2009, from http://fcs.tamu.edu/families/aging/grg/primer-english.pdf
- AARP International. (2008, April). Who Is Raising the World's Children? Grandparent Caregivers: Economic, Social and Legal Implications. (Proceedings of a joint panel discussion, Washington, D.C.) Retrieved July 15, 2009, from www.aarpinternational.org/resourcelibrary/ resourcelibrary_show.htm?doc_id=676636
- Older Americans Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 3030s. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from www.gpoaccess.gov/USCODE/index.html
- Beltran, Ana. (n.d.). National Family Caregivers Support Program: Narrative Analysis. Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from
top of page
April 11, 2012