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Child custody and the rise of "grandfamilies"

The U.S. Census Bureau has reported that more than 3 million children did not live with either one of their parents in 2009. Almost 60 percent of those children were being raised in the homes of their grandparents.

Social researchers say child custody arrangements involving an absent mother and father are rarely planned. Grandparents are often the default option for parents who are struggling with financial issues, addictions, prison time and illness. In some cases, a parent's death places grandparents in the position of child-rearing.

According to the Pew Research Center, grandparents who take on parenting for another generation are not usually elderly. In 2009, the center found that nearly 70 percent of grandparents who raise their own children's children are younger than 60 years old. Thirteen percent are no older than 45.

Some grandparents, who have a range of adult and teenage children, are sometimes raising children as a parent and grandparent at the same time. One mother of a 22-year-old man was asked to take in his two small children, both under 1 year old. She has obtained custody since then, but still had three teenagers of her own living at home.

A Case Western Reserve University nursing professor reports grandparents who are in parental positions are often worried about two generations - their own child and their grandchildren. The professor added that parenting grandparents often feel they've gained a purpose and may feel a reduction in stress simply by knowing their grandchildren are safe.

Unfortunately, the professor noted in her study of more than 150 "grandfamilies," many of the reasons grandparents are put in the child caregiver position are unpleasant ones. The alternatives for their grandchildren are often foster care or adoption.

For grandparents in Texas who are raising their grandchildren, it may be comforting to know that support groups do exist to help them learn from and relate to others in their same position.

Source: USA TODAY, "More grandparents taking on a second round of parenting," Sharon Jayson, July 27, 2011

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