When parents are absent or unable to raise their children, often it’s the grandparents who step up and step in. Those numbers are increasing throughout the United States – currently, more than 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren.
“Just in Wisconsin alone, there are 74,000 grandparents and 150,000 children being raised by grandparents,” says Carmella Harris. “So, it’s a really big issue.”
To lend support to the growing number of grandparents here in Madison, Harris started the group Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren last summer which was boosted by a grant from the City of Madison this year. The first session wrapped up earlier this week.
“It’s just a great place for grandparents raising their children to come together to give each other support,” Harris tells Madison365. “We’ve had mental health people come in and talk with the grandmothers, we’ve had housing [people] come in, we’ve had Kinship Care be a part of this and social workers come in. I think the first session has just been awesome, I’m going to be honest. We have had so much support.”
The idea first came to Harris when she ended up having to raise her own grandchildren two years ago.
“My son was suffering from a major depression and we didn’t know that he was bipolar at the time. I ended up raising four grandchildren in my home – a two-bedroom house and ended up with my son and his wife,” she recalls. “After the struggles I went through and the grandparenting I did, I wasn’t able to legally get any support or services for my grandchildren, I realized that there were a lot of grandparents like me trying to raise their grandchildren. If grandparents don’t have legal custody of the kids, it’s difficult.”
Also known as “kinship care,” a growing number of grandparents are now taking on the parenting role for their grandchildren and are looking for support. Meetings for Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren are held at the Boys and Girls Club in the Allied Neighborhood on Mondays over lunch.
“One thing that I saw was that foster care parents can get like $800 towards kinship where grandparents – if they are eligible for kinship care – can get maybe, if they’re lucky, $321,” Harris says. “Also, a lot of times you have grandparents who are temporarily raising their grandchildren because their children are indisposed or incarcerated. Legally, they don’t want to get the system involved and they don’t want to tell the schools that the grandparents are raising the children. So there are so many issues that grandparents face that most parents don’t face.”
Grandparents provide the safety net for children who might have otherwise entered the foster care system. Nationally, it is estimated that grandparents and other kinship care providers save the government more than $6 billion annually.
To address this emerging trend, Union Corners on Madison’s near east is building the brand-new GrandFamily Housing development aimed at grandparents and other extended family members who are raising children. Grandparents raising grandchildren can often face obstacles in housing.
“I’m actually very much in support of that and I’m working with them, as well,” Harris says. “I’m really excited about that. Almost all of my grandparents have applied for that housing.”
It’s very challenging for grandparents to be raising their grandchildren; but it can also be very rewarding. For Harris, it’s important for the grandparents to know and chat with and network with other grandparents who are going through the exact same thing.
“At Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren, the grandparents pick the topics they want to talk about, they share experiences they have with their grandchildren right now. They are able to piggyback off each other and say, ‘Oh, I went through some of that with my grandchildren, too. Here was my experience.’
“I’ve had grandparents tell me, ‘Thank you so much. I’m just happy to be here and know that there are other grandparents that are going through something similar to what I’m going through,'” she continues. “It’s so great to be able to meet other grandparents and bounce things off of them.’
The next Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren session starts April 22.
“We did surveys on what the grandparents’ needs were and we got a lot of data. So, hopefully, our next group will be even better,” Harris says.
For more information about Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren, contact Carmella Harris at (608)504-1543 or [email protected]