Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Fink! Still at Large: A Recently Published Study Looked at Predictors of the Well-Being of Grandmother Caregivers and That of Their Grandchildren. What Is the Message Here for Psychiatrists?

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Fink! Still at Large: A Recently Published Study Looked at Predictors of the Well-Being of Grandmother Caregivers and That of Their Grandchildren. What Is the Message Here for Psychiatrists?

Article excerpt

I was heartened to read the study about caregiving grandmothers and their grandchildren. It offers numerous lessons for those of us who are in the child advocacy business.

Agencies tasked with deciding who is going to care for a child in the absence of parents need to be more vigilant about what is in the child's best interests. Sometimes foster care parents have no therapeutic skills, and grandmothers might not have basic parenting skills. Ultimately, we must change the system so that the child is placed in a position that is a good fit. Caretakers need to possess a basic set of skills. If not, things go from bad to worse.

We already know that children whose parents are absent being raised by grandmothers are found to have more behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, depression, peer problems, and violent behavior, compared with children raised in two-parent homes. However, a great deal depends on the grandmother's stability.

How We Got Here

The phenomenon of grandparents becoming family guardians is a fairly recent one. Before the 1980s and 1990s, when grandparents started taking on the role of helping vulnerable children in the wake of the cocaine epidemic, ongoing substance abuse, and "parent incapacity, such as mental illness, incarceration, physical illness, HIV/AIDS, and death" (Child Youth Serv. Rev. 2012;34:648-54), foster care and kinship care were the two standbys used by welfare departments to handle such problems. Such departments are not eager to place children, because such placements are both costly and complex.

When children are placed with grandparents, the grandmother usually becomes the primary caregiver. According to the Census Bureau, 2.45 million grandparents reported that they were responsible for their grandchildren under age 18 years in 2006.

In the recently published report, written by Catherine Chase Goodman, DSW, the well-being of grandchildren and that of their caregiving grandmothers were studied 9 years later. This article is important, because it addresses the grandmothers' health - both mental and physical - and how her behavior affects her grandchildren. Dr. Goodman's sample comprised 50 white and black grandmother caregivers who had participated in a National Institute on Aging study 8-10 years earlier. In the previous study, 1,058 co-parenting and skipped-generation grandmother caregivers were recruited through announcements in the media and in schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The grandmothers received a $15 payment and a $5 Mc-Donald's gift certificate.

Ultimately, after accounting for deaths, declines, and other factors, the current study was quite small. Most of the grandmothers, 64%, were white; about 36% were black. The average age of the grandmothers was 67 years. The grandmothers were offered a $20 incentive for a telephone interview. In that interview, they were asked to rate their own well-being and to evaluate the well-being of one target grandchild. The interviews were conducted by a team of professional social workers and one graduate-level social work student, reported Dr. Goodman, professor of social work at California State University, Long Beach.

Factors Affecting Practice

Using regression analysis, Dr. Goodman found that the grandmother and grandchild closeness was significant. …

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