The Opioid Crisis is Creating More “Grandfamilies.” What Are Their Challenges, and How Can Communities Help Them?

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Media Contact

Sarah Litton
Communications and Public Affairs
(202) 772-5062

October 25, 2018

Grandmother reading with grandson in hammock.

The opioid epidemic has shattered families and communities across the country. We see this clearly in the growing numbers of grandfamilies—grandparents who are assuming the role of primary caregiver to the children of parents addicted to opioids or other substances. Altarum recently conducted a survey of these grandparents to better understand their circumstances, and the actions needed to help them.

Research has consistently shown that children who must be removed from their parents' care have better emotional, mental, and physical outcomes when placed with another family member rather than with stranger foster caregivers. However, resources and support for kinship caregivers are largely lacking.

In the US, 7.8 million children live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. Of these, 2.7 million grandparents are responsible for the basic needs of their grandchildren, despite the fact that 21 percent live below the poverty line. Grandparents save taxpayers more than $6.5 billion each year by keeping children out of foster care, but have limited access to services or subsidies. Further, little is actually known about the specific challenges that grandfamilies face and thus what types of programs would be most beneficial.

This summer Altarum conducted in-depth interviews with 20 grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. They generously shared their stories hoping that we could give voice to how their lives and the lives of their grandchildren have been affected by opioids.

We also collected survey responses from over 1,000 grandparents nationwide who are raising their grandchildren for a variety of reasons including substance use, homelessness, death, and incarceration. This research provides a general understanding of grandfamilies and insight into the challenges they face including navigating brutal custody battles, raising children with highly complex emotional and cognitive needs due to trauma, and managing the guilt and heartbreak associated with having a dysfunctional adult child.

Altarum will be releasing these findings in the next few weeks, along with recommendations on actions policymakers, government officials, and others can take to ensure these casualties of the opioid crisis are not overlooked or forgotten. To be alerted when the report is released, send an email to

Altarum is a nonprofit organization that creates and implements solutions to advance health among vulnerable and publicly insured populations.