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Many grandparents assume primary caregiving of grandchildren

Older Americans, including many living in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are the primary caregivers of their children's children, a trend that is likely to continue, due to nontraditional family structures that are so common today. Many grandchildren also live in households headed by their grandparents, often without benefit of a parent in the household as well. Nontraditional family structures such as single parenting, unplanned parenthood, divorce and remarriage of their children are often reasons why grandparents assume some parenting responsibility of their grandchildren.

According to a recent U.S. study, approximately 36 million U.S. citizens over the age of 65 are grandparents. Approximately 7.8 million children in the United States live in a home with a grandparent and 62 percent of those children live in a home headed by a grandparent. Moreover, grandparents act as primary caregivers to more than half of the children living with them. Additionally, 20 percent of those grandparents live in poverty.

According to one of the study's authors, although elderly people do not plan to care for their grandchildren, they do so because "it is what family members do." Grandparents have limited resources for help, for example, the Internet and support groups, and they often have limited legal authority to make decisions for the grandchildren in their care.

Often, the best course for raising a grandchild may be for grandparents to be granted legal custody or a legal right to make parenting decisions. Maintaining a positive relationship with grandchildren and providing good care can be difficult if grandparents' rights have been limited or completely eliminated. Professional legal help may provide grandparents with the support they need to effectively parent their grandchildren.

Source: The Washington Post, "As Families Become More Complicated, More Grandparents Care for Kids, Study Says," Tara Bahrampour, Nov. 6, 2013

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