ERIC Identifier: ED401044
Publication Date: 1996-10-00
Author: Rothenberg, Dianne
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Grandparents as Parents: A Primer for Schools. ERIC Digest.
An increasing number of American grandparents are finding their later years
different from what they expected. Instead of a quiet retirement, sweetened by
delights of occasional visits with grandchildren, many grandparents have taken
on the role of surrogate parents to their grandchildren. Reasons behind this
trend involve a variety of family circumstances, including the death of one or
both parents, parental abandonment, the high incidence of divorce, an increase
in the number of never-married mothers (especially teen mothers), parental
imprisonment, drug addiction, or mental illness. The AIDS epidemic also plays a
role in this increasing shift of responsibility for child rearing. The Orphan
Project of New York City (1995) estimates that 75,000 to 125,000 children will
be orphaned by the year 2000 because their mothers have died of HIV/AIDS.
Recent legislative activity is also likely to contribute to an increase in
the number of grandparent-grandchild families in the future. The amended
September 1995 Social Security Act requires states to specify adult relatives as
the first foster care option; the Kinship Care Act of 1996 (introduced by
Senator Wyden of Oregon and recently referred to the Senate Committee on
Finance) puts grandparents first in line as potential foster care parents and
adoptive parents for grandchildren who, for safety reasons, have been removed
from their parents' home.
In short, while grandparents have often raised their grandchildren in times
of family crisis, the proportion of families in crisis situations is growing. A
40 percent increase in grandchildren living in their grandparents' homes, many
without their parents, was reported between 1980 and 1990 (de Toledo &
Brown, 1995). Families made up of grandparents and their grandchildren are just
one of the diverse family structures with which schools are learning to work.
THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF GRANDPARENTS AS PARENTS
Center for Health Statistics (Saluter, 1996) reported that 3.735 million
children under the age of 18 (5.4 percent) live in the home of their grandparent
or grandparents, and that black children are more likely (13 percent) to live
with a grandparent than white children (3.9 percent) or Hispanic children (5.7
percent). While nearly half the grandparent households with a grandchild include
the child's mother, about a million families in the United States are made up of
grandparents raising their grandchildren without one of the children's parents
(Takas, 1995). Thus, about 1 in 20 children under 18 lives in a home headed by a
grandparent without parents present. Grandparents serving as surrogate parents
represent all socioeconomic and ethnic groups. Most families headed by
grandparents live in an urban setting and have less than a high school
education, and more such families live in the south (57 percent) than in all
other areas of the United States combined (Turner, 1995).
HOW SCHOOLS CAN HELP
Schools can contribute significantly
to helping grandparents cope with the stresses of parenting a second time
around. As a basis for understanding and helping, school personnel may need to
learn to recognize and accept strong feelings experienced by each member of the
grandparent-parent-child triad. Grandparents (even those who find great
satisfaction in raising their grandchildren) often feel disappointment mixed
with anger, blame, guilt, and serious concern about family finances. Parents
usually have ambivalent feelings of gratitude and resentment, as they grieve the
loss of their child even if they recognize that the decision to remove the child
from their care is in the child's best interest. Often, resentment deepens as
estrangement widens. Children raised by grandparents may express feelings of
abandonment, even though they are grateful to their grandparents for taking care
of them (Saltzman & Pakan, 1996). Grandparent and grandchild interactions
with noncustodial parents can be supportive or damaging to all the parties
SCHOOL STRATEGIES INTENDED TO HELP GRANDPARENTS
use many strategies to support grandparents who are working to raise and educate
their grandchildren. Many schools may find the following list of suggestions
school policies on enrollment. Existing policies may need revision to
accommodate the realities of children living with their grandparents. For
example, in some districts, once the grandparent has informal authority from the
parent or legal authority, he or she is able to enroll the child in school,
review the child's records, and make any requests or decisions about the child's
education (American Association of Retired Persons [AARP], 1993). In other
districts, formal guardianship is required for anyone other than a parent to
make school decisions on behalf of the child.
helpful information on hand for grandparents acting as parents. School
counselors may want to write to the organizations in the Resource List
accompanying this digest for more information on parenting the second time
around, and they may want to share it with teachers and grandparents acting as
parents. They may want to check with local social service agencies to find out
about support groups and "reparenting" or "grandparenting" classes for
grandparents raising a second family. Such services may help reduce the
isolation that is commonly cited as a major problem for grandparents raising
their grandchildren (de Toledo & Brown, 1995).
in mind that short-term "respite care" for young and school-age children often
tops the "wish list" of grandparent caregivers (Turner, 1995). If they do not
already routinely do so, schools can prepare information in advance on before-
and after-school programs, on lunch and breakfast programs, and on Head Start or
other preschool programs for "all" families.
sure that school policy supports appropriate referrals for educational, health,
and social services, as needed. Grandparents may not be aware of services
available to help their grandchild academically or to help the child deal with
emotional and psychological problems. Eligibility for such services may be in
question in some situations, yet many grandparent-grandchild families are
particularly in need of this kind of assistance (AARP, 1993).
in mind that school may be a much different place from the schools that
grandparents remember. Schools might consider scheduling extra time for
grandparent teacher conferences, letting grandparents know how to reach the
teacher not only when there is a problem but at any time, and encouraging
grandparents to volunteer at school to gain a sense of current school practices.
"family-friendly" strategies to encourage surrogate parents to take an active
role in their children's education. These strategies include using inclusive
language on home-school communications. Schools might want to stress to teachers
the importance of understanding how the child views his or her primary
caregiver. When the teacher is sending home important notices, the teacher needs
to know whether it is "Grandmommy" or "Poppa" who will need to read, sign, and
return the forms. The child and his or her classmates need to hear the teacher's
accurate acknowledgment of this important relationship.
SCHOOL STRATEGIES INTENDED TO HELP GRANDCHILDREN
can also help children cope with the stresses of adjusting to their living
arrangements. The strategies listed here particularly affect the children.
transitional or adjustment difficulties and act to minimize them. If a
grandchild has only recently come into the grandparents' home, he or she may
need time to adjust to a new routine, including expectations that he or she will
attend school regularly and complete schoolwork.
for children's strengths and build on them. As many as two-thirds of children
who have grown up in difficult circumstances have within them the resilience to
grow up to lead healthy, productive lives (Benard, 1991). With support and
sensitivity, these children can often meet teachers' expectations.
children living with grandparents with the most stable and experienced teachers.
Whether because of long-term family instability or recent sudden trauma,
children living with their grandparents may not only need extra attention during
the school year but also the classroom stability that an experienced teacher can
not to single out children because of their family status in front of peers or
other teachers. Shame and the feeling of being different from their peers,
however unjustified, can contribute to a difficult school adjustment for these
Children from families headed by grandparents
constitute a growing proportion of students in schools, and their numbers can be
expected to continue to increase. Schools that recognize and support these
nontraditional families will be able to provide better service to their
See the Grandparents as Parents Resource List of related publications and
FOR MORE INFORMATION
American Association of Retired
Persons (AARP). (1993). GRANDPARENTS RAISING THEIR GRANDCHILDREN: WHAT TO CONSIDER AND WHERE TO FIND HELP. Washington, DC: AARP.
Benard, B. (1991). FOSTERING RESILIENCY IN KIDS: PROTECTIVE FACTORS IN THE
FAMILY, SCHOOL, AND COMMUNITY. San Francisco: Far West Laboratory for
Educational Research and Development. ED 335 781.
Chalfie, D. (1994). GOING IT ALONE: A CLOSER LOOK AT GRANDPARENTS PARENTING
CHILDREN. Washington, DC: Women's Initiative of the Association of Retired
Persons de Toledo, Sylvie, and Deborah E. Brown. (1995).
GRANDPARENTS AS PARENTS: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR RAISING A SECOND FAMILY. New York: Guilford Press. ED 393 549.
Orphan Project of New York City. (1995). ORPHANS OF THE HIV EPIDEMIC. New
Saltzman, Glenn, and Patricia Pakan. (1996). Feelings...in the Grandparent
Raising Grandchildren Triad (Or Relationship). PARENTING GRANDCHILDREN: A VOICE
FOR GRANDPARENTS. 2(1, Winter): 4-6.
Saluter, Arlene. (1996). MARITAL STATUS AND LIVING ARRANGEMENTS: Current Population Reports Series. Washington, DC: National Center for Health Statistics.
Takas, Marianne. (1995). GRANDPARENTS RAISING GRANDCHILDREN: A GUIDE TO
FINDING HELP AND HOPE. Crystal Lake,IL: National Foster Parent Association, Inc.
ED 394 712.
Turner, Linda. (1995). Grandparent-Caregivers: Why Parenting Is Different the
Second Time Around. FAMILY RESOURCE COALITION REPORT 14(1-2, Spring-Summer):