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Having grandchildren is supposed to be a storybook experience featuring snapshots of laughter and hugs, the pleasure to indulge the little ones with gifts and extra helpings of dessert before returning them to Mom and Dad. But for growing numbers of grandparents, joyful dates with the grandchildren have been replaced by the responsibility of full-time child care. Doctors and other health care professionals are just now beginning to see that the demands are taking a toll on many grandparents’ health.
Grandparents raising grandchildren are faced with unique stressors, that are fairly common when dealing with this population. An example of a stressor that was evident in both videos, was the financial burden this causes for these families. The Douthitts family, after fighting for custody for their grandchildren for years face expensive court cost and legal fees that amounted to thousands and thousands of dollars. After, nearly losing their home to foreclosure they are still scraping to get by. The financial burden does not stop here for the Douthitts, they also pay for therapy and tutoring, to meet the needs of their three grandchildren. While Cathy could go back to work unlike most grandparents, she was not financially stable enough to take in all six grandchildren, which took a toll on her emotionally. Daycare was a huge expense for Cathy sought financial support to help raise her three grandchildren. It is not just that grandparents are exhausted from chasing after little ones and juggling after-school activities. Grandparents are suffering from problems like depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, alcoholism, and strokes. Doctors link these problems to the stress of being parents all over again, this time under far more difficult circumstances than the first time around. The rise in grandparents raising grandchildren is mainly due to the high rates of substance abuse by parents; child abuse, neglect or abandonment, and divorce.
These social problems leave their mark on children in the form of depression, grief, learning disabilities and other special needs, which add to the grandparents’ financial and emotional strain. This is the case that Cathy faces with her daughter, which lead her to care for her grandchildren full time.
Using the Role Strain Theory and Socioemotional Selectivity Theory will help to examine how grandparents experience the strain of caregiving.
Some grandparents are driven to survive until their grandchildren are grown that they take better care of themselves than they did before becoming care providers, which is seen as a strength. Taking on their health problems with a new desire to get well, the risk here is how many stress factors there are. Some grandparents will benefit from seeking help from doctors in controlling stress.
Impacting grandparent care providers as a group with special health risks, that because of this become self-advocators using their grandchildren to help empower them to do better. Cathy gained the courage to go back to work, grieve the loss of her retirement, and risk her health to raise her grandchildren. However, because of this she gained coping skills, self-determination, and empowerment. This transition has had some negative impacts, but has brought her closer to her family and gave her new connections through support groups. Cathy lost all of her old friends, but created a whole new community full of support around her and her grandchildren. Grandparents raising grandchildren prove resilience in overcoming these obstacles to better themselves and those around them.
Laws vary from state to state when dealing with grandparents raising grandchildren. Due to the variations of laws it forces grandparents who want what is best for their grandchildren to seek legal help, which is not cheap. Along with this comes implications, there is s focus on giving priority to grandparents as caregivers because it is assumed that they are willing and able to provide. Florida discourages grandparents from attempting to obtain custody of their grandchildren, even when their grandchildren are suffering under dire circumstances.
Florida does however, allow for the grandparents to take custody in certain situations, which all require expensive court cases. The Douthitt family was forced to sue for custody, and Cathy was also forced to fight for guardianship because her grandchildren were taken away from the parents. Creating pressure on the families through intensity, which makes the problem seem detrimental to the existence of the family. Although grandparents are given priority, unless the parent is deceased it becomes difficult to gain custody especially within the state of Florida. As stated earlier some grandparents because of becoming the care provider to their grandchildren focus on taking better care of themselves to stick around.
However, it is common for grandparent care providers to neglect their own health when, they are living off fixed incomes. Minimizing their own health problems, especially when it comes down to money, or if the situation is either they go to the doctor or their grandchildren. Even when money is not an overriding factor, many grandparents deny or play down their own symptoms for legal reasons. Grandparents who are seeking custody of a grandchild because the parents are drug addicts often fear that if they admit to health problems they will be denied custody. An example of this is the Douthitt family and the grandmothers fight with cancer.
The addressed role of a social worker at the macro level of this issue comes down to advocating for the community of grandparents raising grandchildren. Most grandparents can overcome these obstacles because of their determination to do a good job bringing up their grandchildren. Social workers must use support groups to help grandparents tap into their inner strengths, to help them cope effectively in this new life transition. Grandparent reaching out is a support and advocacy group for those caring for grandchildren. There has been an ongoing need for support groups for this community that give these members a wide range of information, including updates on discipline techniques, legal aspects of custody and guardianship, as well as a place to vent their feelings. A main issue that grandparents face is the feelings of guilt of not having the energy or the knowledge to give their grandchildren all that their friends have.
Grandparents also struggle with the sense of isolation. It is important to see this issue at the macro level because, this is an issue that is seen every day and is encountered over and over again. This is an issue that needs laws made, especially in states like Florida where they are lacking. Advocating for grandparents raising grandchildren is an ongoing issue that is only increasing as time goes by, it is important as social workers to find ways to help those facing these situations by providing resources, education, and policies. The issues advocating for this is simply the lack of tools there are for this population and the lack of education around this community.
The social work code of ethics is represented in this issue by advocating, promoting, identify issues and resources, addressing values, and promoting dignity by applying these ethical principles to this community in a non-bias way to provide social justice.
There are many implications that can arise from grandparents raising grandchildren. However, with the proper guidance, resources, and help that a social worker can provide the pros outweigh the cons. Financial struggles and stress factors are always a huge risk, but strength-based practices and support groups help eliminate and educate the grandparents on how to raise their grandchildren, while they experience this transition to the best of their abilities.
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