From: Carla Jacobson
Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association
When we think of Minnesota’s resources, perhaps we envision lakes, woods, or mining, but we should also think of our grandparents.
In September we recognize “Grandparents Month,” celebrating and raising awareness about the contributions of grandparents, including those who are raising other relative’s children. According to the National Committee for Grandparent’s Rights, more than 17,000 grandparents in Minnesota report having their grandchildren live with them.
A recently released U.S. Census Bureau report reveals that the number of children living with a grandparent has increased by 64% over the past twenty years.
Grandparents play an important role in providing care for children—they are the most frequently mentioned care providers for children under age 5 among all types of relatives. In 2009, 7.8 million children lived in households with at least one grandparent present (11 percent of all children).
Grandparents represent the most frequent “kinship caregivers” for children—that is, relatives who take on the responsibility of caring for another family member’s children. They provide safety and stability, cultural and familial continuity, love and nurture, when a child’s biological parents are unable to do so. They are often invisible—providing “informal” care outside of the public foster care system and preventing more children from ending up, or remaining, in the public foster care system—yet they need many of the same supports available to recognized foster families.
Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association (MKCA)—the only statewide agency focused on the needs and contributions of grandparents and other kinship caregivers—has found that more than three-quarters of the relatives who call MKCA’s “Warmline” are grandparents, and 84% of callers are female. At this time of year, those who seek help from the MKCA Warmline often call with questions about school enrollment, specialized educational services for the children in their care, or the type of legal authority needed to make educational decisions for a child relative in their care.
Kinship caregivers, particularly grandparents, face legal, financial, educational, emotional and health issues as they take on a parenting role, often for the second time in their lives. Many have fixed or limited incomes—more than half of the caregivers calling the MKCA Warmline have incomes under $30,000—and they may be dealing with their own health problems at the same time they are helping the children cope with the difficult circumstances that brought them under a relatives’ care, whether death, military deployment, parental substance abuse, health or mental health issues, divorce, financial strain, or incarceration. Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund, notes in her column Child Watch, “Often caregivers unexpectedly thrust into this role may be hesitant to share their new challenges with others, and if they do, often find it difficult to connect with networks to find programs and assistance for which they are eligible.”
In spite of these challenges, kinship caregivers impart a valuable contribution to the families and communities of which they are a part, providing an unacknowledged safety net for vulnerable children who cannot be cared for by their own parents. Think of all the children that would be homeless or in foster care, were it not for the nurture and support of these caring elders.
So, the next time we offer gratitude for the bountiful resources in our state, let’s remember the grandparents and other relatives among us who are caring for some of the most vulnerable youngsters in our communities, and who most often do it without fanfare or recognition. They need and deserve our support.
The Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association is a nonprofit organization serving people caring for, or considering caring for, a relative’s child through information, support, and educational workshops. MKCA was founded in 1994 by a group of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Kinship caregivers can visit the MKCA Web site, or call MKCA’s Warmline for information and resources: 877-917-4640