Academic journal article Generations

Grandparents, Grandchildren, and Caregiving: The Impacts of America's Substance Use Crisis

Academic journal article Generations

Grandparents, Grandchildren, and Caregiving: The Impacts of America's Substance Use Crisis

Article excerpt

Substance use, most recently the opioid epidemic, is hurting America's families and often placing greater responsibility upon grandparents to care for their grandchildren. Increasingly, child welfare systems, as they face shortages of foster parents to meet a growing need, are look- ing to grandparents and other relatives to care for children who have entered foster care due to parental drug and alcohol use.

The growing impact of the opioid crisis is becoming increasingly evident. In a recent survey of programs across the United States that primarily serve grandparents and other relatives raising children (known as grandfamilies), nearly all reported serving families impacted by parental substance use. More than 70 percent identified opioids, including heroin, as one of the most common types of drugs affecting the families (Generations United, 2016a).

Recent data show the percentage of children entering foster care due to parental substance use rose from 22 percent to nearly 30 percent in just five years (National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect [NDACAN], 2009-2017)-the largest increase in any reason for removal to foster care. Some pockets of the country report a 33 percent increase in the numbers of children in state custody (Quinton, 2015).

After years of decline, in 2012 the overall number of children in foster care began to rise (NDACAN, 2009-2017). Experts attribute the increase in large part to the opioid and heroin epidemic affecting many parts of the United States (U.S. Congress, 2016). By 2016, 32 percent of all children in foster care were living with relatives, which is an 8 percent increase since 2008 (NDACAN, 2009-2017). More than a third of all children removed from their homes because of parental alcohol and drug use are placed with relatives (Children and Family Futures, 2016).

Yet it is important to recognize that the impact of parental substance use disorders on grandfamilies is not a new challenge. For decades, grandparents and other relatives have provided safe and stable homes for children whose parents have been unable to parent due to alcohol and-or drug use. As grandparent caregiver Chris Mathews explains, "Grandparents are doing whatever it takes to bring their grandchildren to safety."

Statistics on Children, Grandfamilies, Foster Care

In total, about 7.6 million children live in households headed by kin-a grandparent, uncle, aunt, or other relative (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). More than 2.6 million children are living with grandparents, relatives, or close family friends without either of their parents in the home (Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center, 2017).

There is increasing recognition that placing children with relatives when they cannot remain with their parents can reduce the trauma of that separation and result in better outcomes for children than in those children who are placed with non-relatives (Generations United, 2016b).

While caregivers in grandfamilies may be aunts, uncles, siblings, or other relatives, the majority are grandparents. More than 2.5 million grandparents report they are responsible for their grandchildren (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). Fortyone percent are older than age 60, and approximately 57 percent are in the workforce. About 69 percent are married and nearly two- thirds are female. Nearly one in five live in poverty and more than a quarter have a disability. A slim majority (53 percent) are white, approximately 20 percent are black or African American, 20 percent are of Hispanic or Latino origin, 3 percent are Asian, and 2 percent are American Indian or Alaska Native (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).

While the child welfare system relies heavily on relatives, the number of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and others who step in to care for children and keep them outside the foster care system far exceeds those raising children inside that system. For every child being raised in foster care with a relative, there are twenty children living with grandparents or other relatives outside of the foster care system (Generations United, 2017). …

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