Studies on the development of well-being in children raised by grandparents in the United States (U.S.) are reported to have had mixed findings (Dunifon, 2013; Edwards, 2008; Edwards & Ray, 2008; Evan-Zohar & Sharlin, 2009; Kelch-Oliver, 2011; Rubin, 2013; Smith & Palmieri, 2007). Some of these children face significant barriers to their well-being compared with children living with their parents, but tend to fare better than children of single parents or those in foster care (Billing, Ehrle, & Kortenkamp, 2012). Children living with low-income grandparents fare worse on some measures of well-being compared with children living with low-income parents in some studies, but in others they are doing just as well (Doley, Bell, Watt, & Simpson, 2014).
Children in low-income grandparent care and those in low-income parent care have comparable levels of behavioral and emotional problems, activity involvement, and are equally likely to play truant or be suspended or expelled from school (Billing, Ehrle, & Kortenkmap, 2012). However, researchers have found that custodial grandchildren of both genders are at greater risk of psychological, health, behavioral and academic problems than children in the general population (Bradshaw, 2010; Hayslip & Kaminski, 2005; Kelch-Oliver, 2011; Livingston & Parker, 2010; Smith & Palmieri, 2007; Tang, Jang, & Copeland, 2015). Nevertheless, children being raised solely by grandparents appear to be relatively healthy and well-adjusted (Edwards & Andrew, 2006), especially Caucasian girls (Dolbin-MacNab, Roberto, & Finney, 2013). Caucasian grandmothers reported significantly more difficulties with custodial grandchildren than did African American grandmothers on conduct problems and prosocial behavior (Bertera & Crewe, 2013). In terms of gender, grandmothers reported that boys tended to present significantly more difficulties than girls apart from emotional symptoms.
Approximately six percent of U.S. children aged five through 18 are raised by their grandparents (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). About one-fifth of these children live below the poverty line, and about one-third of them are being raised by grandparents who do not have high school diplomas (Livingston & Parker, 2010). About a quarter of the grandparents raising grandchildren have disabilities (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012). Approximately 13.5 percent of African American children under the age of 18 are being cared for by their grandparent, compared to six percent of Hispanic and four percent of Caucasian children (Bertera & Crewe, 2013; Kelch-Oliver, 2011).
There are two types of grandparents' households: multigenerational and skipped-generation or custodial grandparents (Cherlin & Furstenburg, 2008). Multigenerational households include the grandparents, adult children, and grandchildren. Skipped-generation or custodial grandparent households are made up of grandparents and grandchildren only.
There are "four Ds" for why many children are being raised by their grandparents: divorce, desertion, drugs, and death (Dunifon, 2013, p.2). Grandparents often step into the role of parents due to abuse and neglect, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, homicide, mental illness, incarceration, military deployment, teenage pregnancy, death, and child welfare policies that have a preference for relative caregivers. In addition, grandparents often assume the role of parents to keep children within the family, save them from further harm, and keep them out of the foster care system (Hayslip, 2013).
The Development of Children's Well-Being
Children's well-being is multidimensional and influenced by biological and environmental factors (Bradshaw, 2012; Pople, Abdallah, Rees, & Main, 2016). It is also suggested that life and school satisfaction are factors that substantially affect students and their life outcomes (Dolbin-MacNab, Rober, & Finney, 2013). Well-being can be described as judging life positively and feeling good in the physical, mental, and social domains including global judgments of life satisfaction and feelings (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009).
The well-being of those raised by grandparents is influenced by children's age, gender, ethnicity, location they reside in, level of grandparents' education and socioeconomic status (Bradshaw, 2012), reasons they were raised by grandparents, whether they are raised by both grandparents or only one grandparent, if the grandchild is a child with special needs and the type of caregiving (Silverstein, Giarrusso, & Bengston, 2013). Research revealed that the well-being of children living in grandparent-headed households is better than the alternative arrangement (Kelch-Oliver, 2011). Similarly, children who live in grandparent households, after being placed there by social services, do better than those who are placed in the regular foster care system (Kelch-Oliver, 2011).
The children also fare quite well in health and school adjustment relative to children in families with one biological parent (Ye Luo, LaPierre, & Waite, 2012). In addition, children raised by grandparents are not significantly different, except for academic performance, from children raised in traditional families; they have better physical health and fewer behavioral problems than children living with only one biological parent (Solomon & Marx, 1995).
One study reported that children under age 18 living with low-income relatives (including grandparents) fare worse than children living with their parents on most measures of behavioral, emotional, and physical well-being (Billing, Ehrle & Kortenkamp, 2012). Other studies reported children under relative (including grandparents) care have more behavioral, emotional, and school-related problems than children in general (Billings, Ehrle, & Kortenkamp, 2012). Grandparent households were found to provide a less favorable family environment for children to live in, as shown by the shortage of parental functions and resources in these households that were associated with lower levels of well-being among children (Ruiz & Silverstein, 2007). Twenty-two percent of youths attending an inner-city community mental health center for treatment of psychological difficulties were cared for by grandparents due to many of the grandparents themselves experience poor mental health and personal difficulties that could make providing care challenging (Prokos & Keene, 2012).
The effect of the children's well-being depends on the child's age at the time of separation, the grandparents' age and energy level, the extent to which the grandparent is capable of buffering the effects of the events, and the resources and support available to help grandparents advance positive outcomes (Edwards & Ray, 2008). The following section explains the problems faced by grandchildren's well-being in terms of psychological, social-emotional, behavior, and academic performance.
Problems in psychological and socio-emotional well-being. Psychological and socio-emotional development is a complex, interconnected process in the context of children's well-being. It is a by-product of personal and socialization processes. While many children in grandparent-headed households may do well, others are at risk for having more psychological problems than those living with traditional two-parent families (Dunifon, 2013; Edwards, 2008). Because of their negative experiences with their parents, children being raised in grandparent-headed families often display developmental, physical, behavioral, academic, and emotional problems. Some of these problems include depression, anxiety, hyperactivity or inattention, health problems, learning disabilities, poor school performance, and aggression, especially in boys (Smith & Palmieri, 2007). Furthermore, children who were neglected or abandoned by their parents experienced feelings of loss, anger, rejection, guilt, and attachment disorder (Silverstein, Giarrusso, & Bengston, 2013).
Many children raised by grandparents were referred for clinical treatment due to problems with concentration, hyperactivity, depression, oppositional-defiant behavior, temper tantrums, mood swings, and social isolation (Edwards & Ray, 2008). However, depressive symptoms varied significantly by gender, age, and ethnicity, and more symptoms were found among females than males (Dolbin, MacNab, Roberto, & Finney, 2013).
Younger respondents reported more symptoms than older respondents, as they experience uncertainty and difficulties in identity formation that subside with the approach of more stable life-stages. Hispanics exhibited greater depression than white non-Hispanics; possibly due to the stresses of acculturation. Somewhat surprisingly, none of the socioeconomic variables exerted a significant effect, suggesting that depressive symptoms cut equally across social class and family wealth (Hughes, Waite, LaPierre & Luo, 2007).
Behavioral well-being. Approximately 13 percent of children aged 6-17 years old being raised by grandparents exhibited high levels of behavioral problems, and 26 percent had been suspended or expelled from school (Ruiz & Silverstein, 2007). More than twice as many children living with grandparents have high levels of aggravation (21 percent) compared with children living with parents on the same behavior (nine percent) [Ruiz & Silverstein, 2007]. Children in grandparents' care are more likely to live with caregivers who have symptoms of poor mental health or who experience high levels of stress, regardless of poverty (Tang, Jang, & Copeland, 2015).
Low-income African American children raised by grandparents are perceived by teachers as generally manifesting more emotional and behavioral problems than their peers of low-income living in urban areas (Tang, Jang, & Copeland, 2015). Other children raised by grandparents who experience emotional and physical distress may concomitantly demonstrate inappropriate or delinquent behavior and problems in school. Their grandparents may have less energy to assist with the children's schoolwork and social-emotional development.
Some custodial grandparents may lack knowledge about mental health care for themselves or their grandchildren, and they may also be unfamiliar with STDs, drug use, school violence, or peer influences on their grandchildren (Kelch-Oliver, 2011). Approximately 70 percent of children experiment with drugs and alcohol. Other behavioral issues include teenage pregnancy. About 25 percent of girls raised by grandparents had been pregnant at least once before leaving their teen years (Dunifon, 2013; Kelch-Oliver, 2011).
Teachers and school psychologists perceived grandchildren raised by grandparents as exhibiting more internalizing than externalizing problems than children raised by parents as demonstrating overall psychopathology (Edwards & Ray, 2008). They also perceived the children with high level of stress as experiencing significantly more emotional and behavioral problems and poor psychological adjustment than their schoolmates of similar age (Edwards & Andrew, 2006). School psychologists often consider scores at or above the clinically significant threshold as suggestive of psychopathology, and these elevated scores, combined with other factors, may contribute to a clinical diagnosis (e.g., emotionally disabled). Teachers and administrators perceived that children raised by custodial grandparents are insecurely attached (Edward & Ray, 2008). Insecurely attached children tend to seek out their teachers at a higher frequency than their securely attached classmates (Smith & Palmieri, 2007).
Some children raised by custodian grandparents who have been suspended, typically for fighting or disruptive behavior may cause negative interactions with their peers and teachers. However, grandchildren who experienced behavioral problems at school usually did not exhibit behavioral problems at home and were able to comply with their grandparent's rules and structure (Kelch-Oliver, 2011). It appeared that the grandchildren's school behavior and functioning was a reflection of their adjustment to parental loss or a reflection of their desire to be with their parents instead of their grandparents.
Well-being in academic performance. Since schooling occurs as children progress through various developmental pathways, children's satisfactory school experiences are central to quality of life and well-being. Research suggests that children who have been the beneficiaries of positive parental or caregiver relationships in early childhood experience greater success in school than classmates who experience detached or disengaged relationships (Edwards & Ray, 2008).
Children from traditional nuclear families were perceived by teachers as being better students and less likely to repeat a grade compared with custodial grandchildren, whereas children raised in families with one biological parent did not perform any better than custodial grandchildren (Billing, Ehrle, & Kortenkamp, 2012; Solomon & Max, 1995). These situations are similar for young children living with their parents, suggesting that grandparents are as likely to engage young children in stimulating academic-based activities. Twenty-two percent of children in grandparents care are read to two or fewer times a week and 23 percent are taken on outings two or three times a month (Billing, Ehrle & Kortenkamp 2012).
Other study reported children raised by low-income grandparents fare worse than children in low-income parent care in school engagement (Billing, Ehrle & Kortenkamp, 2012). These children may have difficulty engaging in school because they have had to change schools or they may be adjusting to their new living situation and feel distracted. Children in grandparent care are also more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. These children may act out in school because they are having difficulty adjusting to living with a relative caregiver or are angry about being separated from their parents. Children raised by low income grandparents displayed lower academic scores when compared to matched peers. They exhibited more grade failures and learning disabilities. However, a study reported that children raised by older grandmothers functioned better academically than children raised by younger grandmothers (Solomon & Marx, 1995).
Younger grandmothers may have resented early entrance into the grandparenting role and spent less time providing educational support to their grandchildren (Billing, Ehrle & Kortenkamp, 2012; Solomon & Marx, 1995). Custodial grandparents often have legal difficulties related to obtaining guardianship, enrolling their grandchildren in school, and accessing medical care for their grandchildren. Some grandparents often have limited financial resources and may experience difficulty providing adequate housing, food, and clothing. Others may be out of touch or have limited knowledge with what is happening in today's schools. Some grandparents may be unable to help with homework because of limited familiarity with current school subjects. They may lack the necessary time and patience to help their grandchildren succeed academically. The next section discusses the positive and negative perspective of well-being in children raised by grandparents.
Positive and negative perspective of well-being in children. A study by Smith, Rodriguez, and Palmieri (2010) found that custodial grandparent households provide a less favorable family environment for children to live in. Some grandparents appear to have limited knowledge of children's development as it is shown by the shortage of parental functions and resources in these households. Some see these issues as being associated with lower levels of well-being among children.
Ethnicity is a potentially powerful moderator in the development of children's well-being. African American and Hispanic children are more likely to live in extended-family households than non-Hispanic whites. Ethnicity overlaps with a second key moderator, socioeconomic status. African Americans are more likely than whites to be impoverished and to live in distressed communities, with correspondingly fewer resources and more difficult environments for raising children (Hughes, Waite, LaPierre & Luo, 2007). However, Conway, Jones, and Speakes-Lewis (2011) revealed that white children raised by custodial grandparents encounter significantly more difficulties than African American children on most areas of development except conduct problems and prosocial behavior.
Boys are more likely than girls to have externalizing behavior problems; their emotional and behavioral difficulties are expressed outwardly in the form of misconduct or acting out. Girls are more likely to have internalizing problems, meaning they channel their difficulties inwardly by being anxious, fearful, or depressed. Children raised by grandparents will likely occupy substantial amounts of school professionals' time due to disruptive and anxious behavior, resulting in serious problems and significantly having an impact on their schools (Edwards & Andrew, 2006).
In addition, impoverished, physically infirm, ailing, or older grandparents may have difficulty in transporting themselves to school, preventing them from meeting with teachers and school counselors and actively involving themselves in the child's education (Edwards & Andrew, 2006). All of these issues can give rise to a difficult school and educational experience for children raised by their grandparents, particularly when the children must also cope with the loss of their parents and perhaps other siblings. Some adolescents who are working more than 20 hours after school to give financial assistance to their grandparents struggle to make ends meet.
Furthermore, it also suggested that grandparents are better substitutes for the absent parent, possibly because both the single parent and the close grandparent are more likely to be women. In addition, children from single-family backgrounds respond to grandparents as attachment figures, with emotional benefits that persist into adulthood (Hayslip, 2013; Hayslip & Smith, 2013).
Custodial grandparents, however, were more likely than parents to endorse turning to grandchildren to meet their social, physical, and emotional needs: they were more likely to emphasize obedience and view a child's differing opinion as a sign of disrespect (Hayslip & Kaminnski, 2005). Young children, however, have not yet developed the abilities to verbalize complex feelings and tolerate intensely painful emotional experiences such as grief. This grief may be expressed in many ways; for example, somatic and depressive symptoms, irritability, aggression, and academic problems. The section below describes some of the solutions on how to assist children raised by grandparents to have a positive well-being and achieve success in academic work.
There are two basic affective responses for children living with their grandparents: contentment and discontentment (Edwards, 2008; Smith & Palmieri, 2010). The children perceive that they have a good relationship with their grandparent, they have better resources at their grandparent's house (i.e., toys, video games, access to better amenities, etc.) and feelings of being well provided for children. Many children respond optimistically under challenging life conditions because of their love for their grandparents and the new opportunities for positive life and school outcomes (Edwards, 2008; Smith, Rodriguez, & Palmieri, 2010).
Children with Spanish as their second language who retrieved their Spanish at the college level take great pride in their new ability to talk to their immigrant grandparents in Spanish as a result of being raised by grandparents. These children felt happy and grateful to the grandparents for teaching them cultural practices and values (Goodman & Silverstein, 2002). Grandparents shared their stories, talked, discussed, and suggested strategies to solve some issues. Although children raised by grandparents may recognize the sacrifices their grandparents make for them, many manifest a marked degree of ambivalence toward their parents and grandparents. A caring relationship with an adult serves as a protective factor against stress and can improve variables associated with life satisfaction. These relationships seem particularly necessary for children raised by grandparents who may have experienced insecure attachment.
Assisting children's well-being and success in academic pursuits. Children raised by their grandparents who experience negative life events, separation from parents, and subsequent attachment concerns can benefit from the relational focus of school satisfaction approaches. School staff can help them internalize social values and become committed to their schools and communities, enabling them to enjoy their school experience and function better academically (Baker & Silvestein, 2008).
Schools are excellent resources to help manage the needs of children raised by their grandparents. Psychologists, school counselors, and other school professionals can develop support groups for these family members. They should develop and implement interventions building on existing strengths of grandchildren and grandparents and should include a substantial school-based component (Edwards & Andrew, 2006; Hayslip & Smith, 2013). School professionals must be empathetic, avoid blaming, and guard against being perceived as judgmental when communicating with grandparents. Children raised by their grandparents may need substantial stability in their schooling and counselors should work to place these grandchildren with the same teachers and classmates in consecutive years. Grandchildren may benefit from social skills training when establishing and maintaining friendships. Children with academic problems resulting from their grandparents' inability to provide academic and homework assistance should be provided with tutoring (Pople, Abadallh, Rees, Main, 2010).
Social workers can also help grandparents by connecting them with community agencies and resources that provide therapeutic, financial, and social service assistance. This assistance can be of various forms, such as information regarding referral sources for after-school care, medical and dental treatment, community-based counseling, and legal services to determine whether they can receive financial assistance for assuming the care of their grandchildren (Dolbin-MacNab, Roberto, & Finney, 2013). Furthermore, grandparents may need assistance locating appropriate community activities such as sports and music programs as well as summer camps for their grandchildren.
Further help can be sought from community centers such as counseling centers, churches, and after-school programs. These centers are practical venues for grandparent groups to meet and receive support, services, and resources for the numerous issues facing the custodial grandparents. Becoming educated about the resources in place to assist grandparent is beneficial in regard to obtaining the knowledge of the grandparent's rights and obligations. Churches and other community groups could arrange pot-luck suppers. As part of a church service project, youths and teenagers could read to the youngsters and help with homework in the grandparent-led families.
Discussion and Conclusion
Grandparents raising grandchildren experience higher levels of caregiver depression, but at the same time, the experience can be rewarding and meaningful and therefore may be beneficial to psychological well-being for both grandparents and grandchildren. Some grandparents are more relaxed than parents and are more likely to see the child's academic ability and performance in a more objective light. It is important to note, however, that the risk of emotional and behavioral problems of grandchildren is not necessarily a result of their present living situation in a grandparent-headed family. Rather, the circumstances surrounding the need for grandparents to raise their grandchildren may lead to emotional and behavioral problems (Kelch-Oliver, 2011).
Despite the problems experienced by grandchildren and grandparents when grandparents assume fulltime caregiving responsibility for their grandchildren, these alternate family structures may be the best setting to raise children when there is a breakdown in the nuclear family. The child's development and well-being depend on the active participation and positive role of the grandparents. Some grandparents who may have limited knowledge of the current education system, for example new testing and exam systems, should attend grandparent education programs. The Department of Child and Family Services offers classes on education and parenting practices in areas of child development and health issues such as food allergies and dietary practices.
They can also attend grandchildren's extramural activities such as Parent Teacher Conferences and Parent Night. Grandparents can volunteer in classrooms and local libraries as guest speakers. Schools should create a warm, supportive and welcoming environment for parents. School personnel should be sensitive about grandparent involvement, for example use a strength-based approach; have them share the history and culture in the community with the children. Grandparent involvement in school is more apt to be motivated to help their grandchild excel both academically and socially. Providing caring, loving, and emotional support will create a stable and secure environment, which will be significant in the grandchildren's life and they will most likely thrive in life.
The positive aspects of intergenerational relations support the notion that grandparents are important to the lives of grandchildren in adulthood. Many children say their grandparents' love and stability allowed them to succeed in school, stay out of trouble, develop strong morals, and religious values (Dolbin-MacNab, Roberto, & Finney, 2013). They felt deep gratitude and respect for their grandparents' efforts in raising them. However, adolescents did mention a generation gap, strict expectations and limitations of the age and health of grandparents as being challenges to the relationship (Dolbin-MacNab, Roberto, & Finney, 2013). Quality of relationship and caring in raising grandchildren is an investment in grandchildren's feeling of commitment toward their grandparents as expressed by a perceived role, and practical help derives from the wish to repay grandparents who helped them as children.
The well-being of children raised by grandparents is an important phenomenon and warrants further studies by educational researchers. The higher institutions can offer courses for students designed specifically for parenting the second time around to help to keep the grandparents informed and provide a venue to share commonalities with peers.
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