University of Illinois Extension

Your Special Challenges

Angela Wiley, Family Life Specialist

If you are raising your grandchildren, you're not alone. Census estimates tell us that more than 1.5 million children in the U.S. live exclusively with their grandparents.

You, better than anyone, know the joys that come from raising your grandkids. But, you also know the many challenges that are unique to grandparents who are parenting a second time.

The Child's Problems

Grandparents whose grandchildren have the most behavioral, physical or emotional problems report the most distress, the least satisfaction, and the worst relationships with the grandchildren. Given that child maltreatment (often related to parental substance abuse) is the most common reason for grandparents to assume a full-time caregiver role, it is not surprising that many of these children have difficulties that you must try to handle.1

Some of your best allies are likely to be at your child's school. Talk with teachers, a school counselor or social worker. Your doctor and church staff can also provide referrals.

Social Isolation

Grandparents who are parenting often do not have enough support or time for themselves. With the added responsibility of raising children, there's little time left to spend with friends.

Your church or school staff may be able to put you in touch with other grandparents in your situation. The school's parent-teacher organization is a good place to find others with children the ages of your grandchild. And, the Illinois Department on Aging Senior HelpLine can help you locate a local support group. You can contact them by phone toll-free: 1-800-252-8966.

Financial Struggles

Even if you still work outside the home, you may be faced with unexpected financial difficulties or postponing retirement. The Administration on Aging reports that parenting grandparents are 60 percent more likely to live in poverty than other grandparents.

You or your grandchildren may be eligible for assistance. Check into these possibilities:

  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) provides financial help in the form of a monthly check. Contact the Department of Human Services at 1-800-252-8635 to find out if you qualify.
  • Medicaid health care assistance is available for grandchildren who are eligible for TANF.
  • Supplemental Security Income is administered by Social Security. This assistance also comes in the form of a monthly check. For details, contact your local Social Security office or call toll-free: 1-800-772-1213.
  • The Illinois Department on Aging Senior HelpLine is also available to assist you with problems. Call 1-800-252-8966.
  • Finally, the Department of Children and Family Services may be able to direct you to the help you need. Contact your local office or call 217-785-2509.

1 B. Hayslip, J. Shore, C. Henderson, and P. Lambert. 1998. Custodial grandparenting and the impact of grandchildren with problems on role satisfaction and role meaning. Journal of Gerontology, 53B.