Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Face Daunting Financial and Social Challenges, Altarum Survey Shows

December 12, 2018

Ann Arbor, MI — Grandparents who are raising children displaced by the opioid crisis and other behavioral health issues are putting off retirement in order to support their grandchildren, according to new research by Altarum.

Over a thousand grandparents raising grandchildren for a variety of reasons, including parental death, incarceration and opioid abuse responded to Altarum’s national survey. About a quarter reported delaying retirement, and an additional 7 percent reported ending their retirement to return to the workforce.

These grandparents are in a precarious financial situation. Among those surveyed, 11 percent reported that they often or always had trouble paying for food in the last three months, and 28 percent reported that they rely on federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to put food on the table.

“Amid rising housing and health care costs and diminished savings, many retirees are already struggling to pay for their own care and retirement, and raising grandchildren is putting many of them over the edge,” says Altarum researcher Christine Stanik, PhD. “Society must revamp and readjust the supports and services available to meet the needs of these grandfamilies.”

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, 2.7 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren, a number experts estimate has grown in recent years, and 21 percent are living below the poverty line.

In addition to financial difficulties, grandparents in our research reported struggling with a variety of other challenges, including navigating a complex system of legal custody, addressing the behavioral health needs of their grandchildren, and tending to their own personal grief and emotional distress over their adult child’s substance use and/or mental health issues, which often are inadequately treated. Further, about a quarter reported that their grandchildren experienced some form of abuse or neglect while in their parents’ care, making them particularly vulnerable to a host of physical and mental health issues.

Altarum’s research brief identifies five specific steps policymakers and health professionals at the federal, state and community-level should take to help grandfamilies:

  • More effectively connect grandparents with existing subsidies and resources;
  • Enhance the foster care system to better accommodate kinship care;
  • Expand the integration of behavioral health into primary and pediatric care (as well as an increased focus on geriatric mental health care);
  • Educate grandparents and the legal community that serves them (such as elder law and legal aid organizations) about grandparents’ legal rights; and
  • Establish peer support trainings and peer-led programs.

See the complete survey results and recommendations on how state and local organizations can help grandfamilies in the research brief Collateral Damage of the Opioid Crisis: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren—What They Need and How to Help.

Survey Methodology

Altarum conducted a national survey of more than 1,000 grandparents, and collected data about grandfamilies through in-depth interviews of 20 grandparents who reside in Michigan. This research was led by social psychologist Christine Stanik, PhD, with funding by Altarum.

Altarum is a nonprofit organization that works with federal and state agencies and foundations to design and implement solutions to improve the health of individuals with fewer financial resources and populations disenfranchised by the health care system. We achieve measurable results by combining our expertise in public health and health care delivery with technology, workforce training and continuing education, applied research, and technical assistance. Our innovative solutions lead to better health for beneficiaries and better value for payers.