Carbon County officials are looking to help grandparents raising children.
During the recent meeting of the Carbon County Child and Family Collaborative, a group of agencies that aims to help children and their families through developing programs and making resources available, listened as Jan Cohen, M.Ed., family resiliency educator for Penn State Extension in Susquehanna, discussed the topic "Parenting a Second Time Around: Kinship Care in the 21st Century."
Cohen began by reading the poem "I Just Wanted to be a Grandma," which was written by a woman who raised her grandchildren
She then discussed a trend that has been growing since the 1990s grandparents and other family members acting as the role of caregiver for their relative's children.
According to AARP's 2010 GrandFacts State Fact Sheet, there are 239,819 children under the age of 18 living in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives. This represents 8.6 percent of children in Pennsylvania.
Of that total, 6.9 percent live with grandparents; while the remaining 1.7 percent live with other relatives.
Due to this growing trend, Cohen said that 68 percent of these grandparents raising children are under the age of 60; and 19 percent are living at 100 percent poverty level.
So why do grandparents take the role of parents?
Cohen explained that there are a number of reasons that grandparents become the caregiver.
Some include military deployment; death of a parent; incarceration; addiction; or just being an unfit parent.
There are a lot of challenges that grandparents face, Cohen pointed out, including having to now go back to work to support the family.
Cohen said that many of the families do not have legal guardianship of the child and could create problems with getting assistance; enrolling the child in school or taking them to a doctor for care.
MaryKay Lesisko, the Jim Thorpe Area School District family liaison, said that in the Carbon County school districts, there are liaisons that can help because the child in this situation would be considered homeless at the time so when a grandparent is trying to enroll them in school, the missing items, such as birth certificate, would be highlighted and then requested when asking for transcripts from the child's previous school.
In addition to financial challenges, both grandparents and the family may face other issues, including feeling the loss of their child that was not able to care for their child; loss of a normal relationship and traditional role as grandparent; and jealousy by other children for not having a normal grandparent.
They also don't know where to turn for help because times have changed since they were first-time parents.
There are some ways agencies and communities can help grandparents.
Cohen said that you need to reach out to these families, but the hardest is finding out who these families are. Two avenues to help identify grandparents acting in parental roles could be to ask at the child's school; as well their minister.
Jeanne Miller, co-chairperson of the collaborative, added that the county Area Agency on Aging office can also provide assistance in finding programs available to grandparents.
Two members of the collaborative, who also are grandparents raising children, spoke up about their own experiences.
Miller then said she would like the collaborative to reach out to grandparents who are raising children and create an event for them to come and mingle with others in the same situation. It could help create a support network.
The collaborative also agreed that they would obtain information that is currently available for grandparents and send it to the five area school districts so it could be utilized as a learning tool for staff to better serve their families.
Cohen left a number of websites that provide grandparents with information on ways to help raise their family.