Larry Cooper, MSW, LCSW
Life doesn’t always follow a direct path; instead, we face detours and other obstacles along the journey. For thousands of Central Florida seniors, that means supporting family by stepping in to raise their grandchildren.
When parents struggle with addiction, financial instability or other challenges, the burden of childcare often falls on older relatives – many of whom may not be prepared to parent for a second time. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 30,000 children in Central Florida live with relatives other than their parents, typically their grandparent(s) – a living arrangement referred to as “kinship care.”
Numbers increased significantly amid the opioid crisis, as overdose, addiction and incarceration splintered families, leaving children without caregivers. Now, the pandemic’s economic impact is making access to basic resources, like food and financial support, even more difficult.
From diaper changes to driving lessons, raising a child is a huge investment of time, energy and emotional effort – as well as money. According to USDA estimates, raising just one child to the age of 17 costs an average of $233,000. That’s a big expense for any prospective parent, but for an unprepared grandparent, it can pose a major threat to financial stability. In fact, Feeding America estimates that kinship caregivers are at a higher risk of food insecurity.
It can be a difficult transition from the wonderful role of “Grandma” or “Grandpa” in order to become a full-time parent; it’s much more fun spoiling grandchildren with special treats and activities than it is enforcing homework deadlines and chores.
The children they care for may be recovering from abuse, neglect or other trauma – and they may be mourning the death or absence of their parent, too. The grandparents are also hurting, but often need to set aside their own grief to comfort their grandchildren, deal with academic challenges or work through behavioral issues.
However, for children who would otherwise be in foster care, staying with family is often the best-case scenario. That’s why state-approved agencies like Embrace Families strive to place kids with relatives as often as possible, as this is proven to support recovery and encourages family connections. Grandparents who step in during a crisis are compassionate, resilient and resourceful in order to meet the needs of their grandchildren.
But the vast majority of kinship placements – approximately three-quarters of them – aren’t involved with the formal foster care system. Grandparents may feel afraid to reach out for help, especially if they don’t have legal custody of the children.
At Embrace Families, we’re working to provide resources for these kinship caregivers, both in and out of foster care. Anywhere in the state of Florida, you can dial 1-888-920-8761 to speak with a coordinator and connect with our team of “peer navigators” – most of whom have raised, or are currently raising, a niece, nephew or grandchild themselves.
From basic supplies – food, clothing, diapers and bedding – to support groups and local resources, our goal is to provide caregivers with help, compassion and understanding. To learn more about our services, find out how you can help, or to access resources for your family or someone who needs help, visit www.EmbraceFamilies.org.
Larry Cooper, MSW, LCSW is Chief of Prevention and Intervention Services at Children’s Home Network.