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Dramatic rise in grandparents raising children

Dramatic rise in grandparents raising children

CREATED Apr 19, 2012

Reporter: Valerie Cavazos

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- When you think retirement -- you might picture traveling or golf. But for many seniors, their golden years are spent raising children again.

Almost 5 million children live with their grandparents. Grandparents have been raising grandchildren for generations. But what we're seeing is an increase in the sheer volume of grandparents having to step up - an increase of 9 percent over the past decade.

The reason: a dramatic rise in incarceration rates, substance abuse, mental illness, and dire economic conditions. All combined -- it has created a perfect storm that many grandparents are not equipped to navigate by themselves.

And child advocates say there is little support for grandparents taking on this role, but one group of grandparents in Pima County is working to change that.

Doris Gilder said, "The energy level is lacking at our age." But she picks up her 9 year old great grandchild every day after school --- not only because she wants to -- she has to -- she's her legal guardian - a challenging role that is physically and emotionally draining.

She said, "The way kids are now is much different than when our children were young. The parents cause you to cry. Why can't they take care of children when they do have the resources." Resources that some grandparents simply don't have. Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows nearly 1 in 5 seniors are living below the poverty line. 

Jessie Hetherington, who retired in Green Valley in an age restricted area, was not ready for the economic challenges. "Not really," she said, "but we did it anyway. It took us two years to sell our home down there and we we had two homes -- paying double the bills. So retirement money went down the tubes. Would I and would my husband do it again? Absolutely."  In part because of the support they've received from various organizations, such as the Children's Action Alliance.

Today, Jessie and Doris are working with a group to build a statewide grandparents network that would provide seniors with more support, resources and tools to help them succeed. Kelly Griffith of the Center for Economic Integrity helped provide direction in planning the group's next steps. She said, "They're not asking for handouts,they're asking for a little bit of guidance so they can do the job they volunteered to do."

Hetherington said, "We need to have a voice in how things happen with our children and if we the grandparents don't stand up and give that voice then we're not going to get anywhere. And these children deserve this."

The members of the group, which call themselves Arizona Grandparent Ambassadors, hope to bring the critical social and economic issues to the forefront and provide more support groups throughout the state. They are also trying to build a bigger base to influence policy changes.

If you'd like to find out more about this group, send an email by clicking here.