Nearly six million children are being raised by their grandparents, according to a 2005 U.S. Census Bureau survey. These statistics can be hard to wrap your mind around. But, reading one grandmother’s story will give you a better idea of the depth and breadth of the problem. Last year, I discovered a blog by a grandmother who is raising her grandchildren. I was amazed that she had time to blog, given her situation. Her name is Karen Best Wright and her story touched me deeply.
Karen and her husband, Stan, married in June 2002. It was a second marriage for both of them. Life looked exciting and rather simple. But, four months after getting married, they received a phone call that changed everything. Karen’s daughter had just given birth to her third child and was no longer able to care for the newborn or her two other daughters. She asked Karen to come and take the children.
Karen and Stan drove to Texas to pick up the three little girls, ages 4, 2, and 2 months (The baby weighed less than 5 lbs. and was on a heart monitor). Karen had to stay overnight at the hospital with the baby to show she could take care of a premature infant. The next morning they packed up the girls and within hours they were on their way home, having no idea how they were going to manage everything.
Before leaving Texas, Karen’s daughter signed a notarized power of attorney authorizing Karen and Stan to make all needed decisions pertaining to medical and educational issues concerning the children. The father was and still is incarcerated and is completely out of the picture.
The day after they arrived home, Karen went to social services and applied for Medicaid for the children. Then she went to the county health department to apply for WIC for the children. Women, Infants, and Children—better known as the WIC Program—serves low-income women, infants, and children up to age five who are at nutritional risk. She waited five months before applying for daycare assistance because she kept thinking she should be able to handle everything herself.
When her granddaughters had been with her for eight months, Karen’s daughter finally moved closer and agreed to joint legal custody of the girls, while Karen and her husband had sole physical custody. The two youngest children have been with them for 6 years while the oldest lives with her mother.
Karen and her husband acted wisely when they obtained legal custody of their granddaughters. According to Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., author of The Grandparent Guide : The Definitive Guide to Coping with the Challenges of Modern Grandparenting, without legal custody children won’t have a stable environment and their grandparents won’t have access to the increasing number of social support services available in these situations.
Many new support services are developing in response to the growing number of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. Karen started a website and blog that provide links to a wealth of resources including financial assistance, dealing with stress, and legal issues.
She echoes Kornhaber’s advice that the most important step for grandparents is to secure legal rights of their grandchildren. She has great empathy for these grandparents because they often must deal with the stress of their unstable children who have caused the problem. She receives emails from all over the country and welcomes comments from grandparents facing this challenge. Her message is hopeful and reassures grandparents that they are not alone.
I am in awe of Karen and what she has done for her family. But even more, that she has created a resource for other grandparents facing the challenge of raising their grandchildren. Here are the links to her two sites:
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Blog
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Website