School-Age Children Raised by Their Grandparents: Problems and Solutions

Article excerpt

During the past decade, several studies have been published that investigated the social, emotional, and physical functioning of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Research suggests grandparents in these families experience high levels of stress and psychosocial difficulty. In addition, the available data suggest children raised by their grandparents often encounter behavioral, emotional, and academic problems at school. The problems they experience indicate these children require intervention assistance from psychologists, school counselors, and other school professionals. This paper provides a brief report of the phenomenon, particularly as it relates to the grandchildren's school-related functioning. Practical and theory-based interventions are described to improve the educational and developmental outcomes of these grandchildren.


During the past decade, several studies have been published that investigated the social, emotional, and physical functioning of grandparents raising their grandchildren (cf. Cox, 2003; Emick & Hayslip, 1999; Hayslip et al., 1998; Kropf & Burnette, 2003). Not until recently have scholars addressed the behaviors and school-related functioning of grandchildren in these families (cf. Harrison, Richman, & Vittimberga, 2000; Reynolds, Wright, & Beale, 2003).

Grandparents who raise their grandchildren can provide a loving, familial home environment that is more positive than a foster care or other such governmental arrangement. Nonetheless, raising children is difficult for grandparents during what should be their golden years. Most grandparents do not bargain on having children to raise when they should be enjoying a time of peace and quiet. It seems that no matter how the grandchildren behave, they impact the well-being of their grandparents, for better or worse, simple because of their presence (Harrison et al, 2000). Grandparents who raise their grandchildren also significantly affect the educational functioning, developmental outcomes, and well-being of their grandchildren (Edwards, 2003; Harrison et al.). Few publications offer practical and theory-based interventions to help these families. In this article we review much of the available data and add to the database relative to these new family relationships. We focus on the social, emotional, behavioral, and school functioning of children raised by their grandparents. Practical, theory-based interventions are described to assist these families and improve the children's school-related functioning.

An Alternate Family Structure

The numbers of grandparents who become surrogate parents to their grandchildren are increasing substantially (Fuller-Thomson & Minkler, 2000). According to the United States Census Bureau (2001), approximately 5.6 million grandparents live in homes that include grandchildren younger than 18 years of age. Almost 6% of children in the United States live in households maintained by grandparents (Fuller-Thomson & Minkler). In many of these families, no biological parents are present. Nearly four million grandchildren have grandparents who serve as their primary caregivers. Almost one million of these grandparents have raised their grandchildren for five years or more. Children raised by their grandparents can be found among all religions, ethnicities, and socio-economic classes (Fuller-Thomson & Minkler). Nonetheless, some variation by ethnicity is evident with 13.5% of African American, 6.5% of Hispanic, and 4.1% of Caucasian American children living in such families (Fuller-Thomson & Minkler).

Grandparents who assume the surrogate parenting role often do so as a result of the death of their adult children, their children's divorce, unemployment, and teenage premarital childbearing. Parental deaths as a result of violence and AIDS particularly contribute to the increase in these alternate families. …