In The Warmth of Other Suns, a Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction book from 2010, the writer, Isabel Wilkerson, documents the Great Migration, the wave of African-Americans moving north away from Jim Crow and sharecropping into the uncertain and fraught freedoms of the industrial north in the 1910s and 1920s. In it, she tells a story that is both familiar and jarring: that of grandparents raising grandchildren.
The story (just one thread in a magnificent book) is jarring because it breaks up the natural order as we see it in an accustomed post-war luxury. Grandparents are meant to spoil their grandchildren on regular or semi-regular visits. They bake cookies and put $5 bills in cards and can answer questions parents won’t.
But it is a familiar story because we’ve heard it throughout the years. Economics and circumstances mean that grandparents raise their grandchildren more often than we recognize, whether it was during the African-American migration, because of the grim reaping horrors of war, or because of tragedy, both shattering and mundane.
And those numbers are growing.
More and more, grandparents are raising their grandchildren, a phenomenon that tailed off until the last 20 to 30 years. This is especially true in California and the Bay Area, where vast inequality has led to wide disparities of experience.
As with so much else, though, the state provides resources to help aging adults with this extra burden, one borne from love but made only slightly easier due to it. There are public and private resources that grandparents should take advantage of. Doing so makes their lives easier and can help make the often already-turbulent lives of their grandchildren more stable and promising.
The Growth of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren in California and America
Here are some incredible statistics about grandparents raising their grandchildren in California and the nation:
- 4.5 million children are being raised by grandparents. (Source)
- 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren. (Source)
- This is up 7% since 2009. (Source)
- One-fifth of these grandparents are below the poverty line. (Source)
- 33% of grandparents raising their grandchildren have a high school degree or less. (Source)
- 625,934 children in California are raised primarily by their grandparents. Of these, 389,631 are living without a parent present. (Source)
- In San Francisco, as many as one in seven children are being raised by grandparents without a parent present. (Source)
- The number of grandparents serving primary guardians doubled between 1970 and 2010. (Source)
What changed? What caused these enormous spikes? There are a few primary reasons:
- The crack epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s that ravaged inner cities.
- The War on Drugs, which criminalized a health issue and led to globe-leading rates of incarceration.
- The economic decay of industrial cities, which caused many parents to move to other cities in hopes of finding new work before sending for their children (which, with different circumstances, follows a trend we saw with immigrants to America or African-American sharecroppers moving north).
- The Great Recession of 2008.
- The opioid epidemic ravaging rural America.
It’s the outcome of a country undergoing a weird and violent transition, with economic shifts leading to cultural upheavals. But you know who aren’t always interested in the broad, long-term socioeconomic factors that lead to a hockey-stick growth in grandparent-dominated families? The grandparents who are working hard to get by each and every day, and the grandchildren who depend on them.
If you fit into that category, you might be looking for resources to raise happy, healthy, and functioning grandchildren who can lead full and productive lives. In California, there are many services that help make that happen.
Bay Area Services For Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
If anyone reading this is wondering why there should be services to help grandparents who are serving as primary caretakers and guardians of their grandchildren, we want to point out that these resources save America nearly $6 billion a year by avoiding the costs of foster care.
For those looking for a hand, here is a non-comprehensive list of organizations in the Bay Area that provide support for this challenging and rewarding relationship. (Note: many of these refer to “kinship,” which can include aunts/uncles, older siblings, cousins, etc.)
- Kinship Support Services: This is a hybrid public-private organization in California that provides resources and guidance to counties who have 40% of children in foster care, as a way to encourage families to move children out of the system.
- Edgewood Center for Children and Families (ECCF) Kinship Support Network: Supporting kinship care providers in San Francisco and San Mateo counties, the ECCF “was established to recognize and support the many family members who often step up when crises, abuse, illness, incarceration, or violence separates children from their parents.”
- Grandparents Parenting … Again (GPA): GPA, a northern California non-profit, offers eight monthly support groups throughout the region.
- Raising Your Grandchild: Offers support, guidance, and connection for grandparents across the state and country.
Why Grandparents Need Help
While not every instance is a tragedy or Greek drama, there is usually a precipitating reason based on less-than-ideal circumstance that results in grandchildren being raised by their grandparents. And given that more than one-third of grandparents who raise their grandchildren in California are below the poverty line themselves, those circumstances can lead to cascading difficulties.
At a certain point in life, the grind of trying to earn enough to provide opportunities is understandably wearying and preventing the same disaster from befalling another generation never gets easier.
That’s why at Institute on Aging, we encourage grandparents in this situation to reach out to groups that offer help, public or private, and take advantage of the services offered to you. This includes services and resources meant for you, like home care assistance, Social Day Programs, and the Friendship Line. Though you may be dedicating much of your time and resources to raising your grandchildren, it’s important to fulfill your own needs to live a balanced life. Doing so will make it better for you and your grandchildren.
Together, we can help the next generation rise up, and embrace lives that may have started with tumult or difficulty, but are now being shaped by the deep, unwavering love of their grandparents.
At Institute on Aging, we offer services, programs, and resources for older adults, their families, and caregivers to help make life easier and more balanced. Connect with us today to learn more.