A labor of love: the invisible struggle of ancestral caregivers

A labor of love: the invisible struggle of ancestral caregivers

Larry Cooper, MSW, LCSW is the Head of Prevention and Intervention Services at Children’s Home Network.

Life does not always follow a direct path; Instead, we encounter turns and other obstacles along the journey. For thousands of seniors in Central Florida, this means supporting the family by intervening to raise their grandchildren.

When parents struggle with addiction, financial instability, or other challenges, the burden of childcare often falls on older relatives—and many of them may not be ready for second parenting. According to data from the US Census Bureau, nearly 30,000 children live in Central Florida with relatives other than their parents, usually their grandparents (grandparents)—a living arrangement referred to as “kinship care.”

Numbers have increased significantly amid the opioid crisis, as overdoses, addiction and imprisonment have separated families, and left children without caregivers. Now, the economic impact of the pandemic is making access to essential resources, such as food and financial support, more difficult.

From diaper changes to driving lessons, raising a baby is a great investment of time, energy, and emotional effort — as well as money. According to USDA estimates, raising just one child to the age of 17 costs an average of $233,000. This is a huge cost for any prospective parent, but for grandparents who are unprepared, it can pose a major threat to financial stability. In fact, Feeding America estimates that kinship caregivers are at a greater risk of food insecurity.

The transition can be difficult from the adorable role of “grandmother” or “grandfather” to becoming a full-time parent; It’s much more fun to pamper the grandchildren with special treats and activities than to impose deadlines on homework and chores.

The children they care for may recover from abuse, neglect, or other trauma — and they may be mourning the death or absence of their parents, too. Grandparents get hurt, too, but they often need to put their grief aside to comfort their grandchildren, deal with academic challenges or work through behavioral issues.

However, for children who will be in foster care, staying with the family is often the best case scenario. That’s why state-approved agencies such as Embrace Families seek to place children with their relatives as much as possible, as this has been shown to support recovery and encourage family bonds. Grandparents who intervene during crises are compassionate, resilient and energetic in order to meet the needs of their grandchildren.

But the vast majority of kinship placements—nearly three-quarters of them—do not participate in the formal foster care system. Grandparents may feel afraid to seek help, especially if they do not have legal custody of the children.

At Embrace Families, we work to provide resources for these next of kin caregivers, both in and out of foster care. Anywhere in Florida, you can call 1-888-920-8761 to speak with a coordinator and connect with the team of “peer navigators”—most of whom have raised or raised a niece, nephew, or grandson. themselves.

From essential supplies – food, clothing, diapers and bedding – to support for local groups and resources, our goal is to provide caregivers with help, empathy and understanding. To learn more about our services, find out how you can help, or to access resources for your family or someone who needs help, visit www.EmbraceFamilies.org.

Larry Cooper, MSW, LCSW is the Head of Prevention and Intervention Services at Children’s Home Network.

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