2000 Jordan Institute
Grandmothers Who Care for Drug-Exposed Children
Nationally and in North Carolina, "grandcare" is on the rise. Between 1990 and 1996 the number of children under 18 being raised by grandparents grew 44 percent. In 1990, 111,000 children in North Carolina lived in households headed by grandparents; about 30 percent of these (33,624) lived in households where the grandparents were the sole caregivers (Stanley, 1997).
There are many reasons for this increase. Child abuse and neglect, teen pregnancy, and parental incarceration are common reasons. The major factor cited in many studies, however, is substance abuse (Minkler & Roe, 1993). As most social workers know, drugs and alcohol interfere with parents' abilities to care for their children. In cases where mothers abuse drugs while pregnant, the consequences for childrenand those who care for themcan be severe.
While raising the average child can be difficult, children born crack-exposed or addicted require a level of care far beyond that of a healthy infant. Some of the outcomes typically associated with prenatal exposure to crack include pre-term delivery, low birth weight, growth retardation, irritability and lethargy, poor sucking ability and muscle tone, irregular sleep patterns, and attachment difficulties (NCFCRP, 1996). Older children may also have ongoing health problems as the result of prenatal exposure to drugs (Minkler & Roe, p. 159).
In their 1993 book Grandmothers as Caregivers, Meredith Minkler and Kathleen Roe looked at the challenges faced by 71 African American grandmothers who were the primary caregivers for their crack-exposed children. The interviews were conducted over a 15-month period beginning in 1990; the grandmothers ranged in age from 41 to 79, with a median age of 53.
In addition to the burden of physical care of these infants, grandmothers interviewed by Minkler and Roe identified several factors that contributed to the high levels of stress they experienced. These included:
How can the child welfare system help ease the burden for caregiving grandmothers of drug-exposed children? Grandmothers as Caregivers concludes with a summary of a number of interventions being implemented around the country. Over 250 grandparent caregiver support groups have been formed in recent years. These support groups provide a place to share feelings and frustrations and to get information on services and resources. Occasionally these groups become a vehicle to lobby for more effective laws, both for grandchildren and the grandparents who care for them.
In California, a telephone "warm" line has been established for caregiving grandparents to call for emotional support and information. The service is staffed by volunteer grandparent caregivers who serve as peer telephone counselors. In the first six months of operation, the service received over 1,000 calls. In Deerfield Beach, Florida, a local senior citizen center operates a respite/intergenerational child care program. There are several training centers that provide special training to caregiving grandparents, in an attempt to meet the special needs of this population.
In the political arena, coalitions are forming to help concerned individuals, community groups, and agencies as they pursue the common goal of supporting and assisting grandparent caregivers. These efforts are occurring at the local, state, and national levels. In fact, in 1991 the first "Washington Summit" on grandparent caregiving took place. Ten leaders of the grandparent caregiver movement traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with policy makers and key groups and organizations about the needs of relative caregivers raising children in what are being labeled "skipped generation" families.
MacLafferty, R., et al. (1994). Foster care: Parental drug abuse has alarming impact on young children. (GAO/HEHS-94-89). Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Health, Education and Human Services.
Minkler, M. & Roe, K. (1993). Grandmothers as caregivers. Newbury Park: Sage Publications.
North Carolina Family and Children's Resource Program. (1996). Child development in families at risk. Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina School of Social Work.
Stanley, L. (1997). Grandcare: Grandparents raising grandchildren. Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina School of Social Work.
U. S. Bureau of the Census. (1991). Current population reports: Marital status and living arrangements: March 1990. (Series P-20 NO. 450). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office.
© 1997 Jordan Institute for Families