Keeping Busy: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
Fayette County is home to an advocacy organization called FACTOR. This group tackles a number of difficult issues, ranging from drug abuse to child abuse. One of their support programs comes in the form of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (GRG), which aims to provide not only emotional support but also education and assistance to grandparents who have found themselves, in a sense, experiencing déjà vu as they raise young children.
The number of children nationwide who are living under the wings of their grandparents is startling. On the national level, figures as high as 1 in 12 children are in households headed by their grandparents. In Georgia, it is estimated that there are 160,000 of these families, with more than 600 in Fayette County.
Betty Davis, the program director for FACTOR’s GRG, undoubtedly has her work cut out for her. As a grandparent raising a grandchild of her own, she knows one of the most important things the group can provide. “The foundation of our program is the support group,” she says.
For many grandparents in need of support, discovering the GRG has been a godsend. Rachel Pittman, who is raising two children, remembers her feelings after she first joined the group. “I found out that I was not alone,” she says. “Finding out about GRG was a ‘Hallelujah Day’ for me.”
Aside from her personal connection, Betty is well qualified to lead this group along with co-facilitator, Connie Gouge, who are a master’s level social worker and retired school psychologist, respectively. Their group meets twice a month, providing its members with camaraderie and education and with occasional guest speakers from the county school system and Georgia Legal Services, among others. “This group has been uplifting and encouraging,” says Marcy Hillard, who has raised her 11-year old great-grandson from the age of six months.
Betty explains that the primary problem facing Fayette County’s grandparents raising their grandchildren is the financial burden it imposes, especially for retirees. “Most of the grandparents have at least some level of financial stress, and it ranges from a whole lot to not too much,” she comments. Although GRG exists on a national level, the organization receives little-to-no government funding. While the numbers say that the retired should have at least $250,000 in savings to accommodate for living and medical expenses, Betty explains, that number doesn’t take into account any grandchildren they may be supporting.
General financial stress aside—covering the basic needs of a grandchild—there are other expenses that come into play. “As much as we can, we need to try and normalize these children’s lives,” Betty says. This kind of normalization requires getting the grandchildren involved in extra-curricular and after-school activities, she notes, taking into consideration many of the grandparents already spreading themselves thin. One of the group’s members, Tracy Douglas, is grateful that her 8-year old niece was able to go to a weekend camp for the first time last summer. “The GRG made that possible,” Tracy says.
Finances aren’t the only serious issue facing these grandparents; the education system can prove to be troublesome as well. As schools require legal guardians to check and sign off on homework each night, many grandparents face a whole new source of stress: homework help. Most grandparents have been out of school or college for decades. “When my granddaughter came home one afternoon in second grade with rectangular prisms, I knew I was in deep trouble,” says Betty.
Because of issues like this, GRG is always in need of tutors. This is an area where the previous two problems intersect; tutoring is expensive. Betty recalls one instance where a tutoring group, genuinely trying to be helpful, offered her and the GRG group a discount at only $50 per hour. “Most of the grandparents wouldn’t even be able to afford $5,” she points out. Tutoring is important because it not only helps to normalize the children’s lives, but it also promotes the idea that they will one day be able to support themselves. Not all of the grandchildren need the tutoring, but for many, the need is tangible.
Not only do many grandparents struggle with finances and education, but they also must often negotiate the complexities of the legal system and DFACS (Division of Family and Child Services). “[Grandparents] are constantly negotiating mine fields because a lot of them have grandchildren who have parents who are, to some degree, still involved in the children’s lives,” Betty explains. Because of the legal complications that arise for many (custody issues and getting power of attorney for their grandchildren, for instance), grandparents welcome the presence of the Goergia Legal Services speakers that sometimes attend GRG’s meetings, offering pro bono guidance to those affected.
In spite of the problems facing these grandparents and their grandchildren, Betty stresses that the group is full of extremely strong and willing individuals, most of whom are at least 60 and older. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and Grandparents Raising Grandchildren—and all those who provide them with help and financial support—are certainly doing their part.
“Being a part of the GRG group has been such an inspiration and a life changing experience for me,” says Tracy Douglas. “I consider the group to be family.”
For more information on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, contact Betty Davis at email@example.com.