Virtual workshops available for Iowa grandparents taking on role of parents

Malisa Rader
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

AMES, Iowa — The number of grandparents and older relatives who are caring for children, sometimes referred to as grand-families or kinship care, is significant and growing.

This has the potential to be an incredibly rewarding experience, but also comes with challenges, says Malisa Rader, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

For help facing the challenges, Iowa custodial grandparents with grandchildren in grades 3 to 6 are invited to participate in the Helping Relationships “interAct” workshops from the comfort of their home. Custodial grandparents and grandchildren will be given resources, support and practical tips for life skills needed to create and discover rewarding relationships. There is no cost to register. Participants will receive a Chromebook to complete four virtual face-to-face sessions and six self-paced sessions. Gift cards are available for participants upon completion of virtual sessions.

For more information or to register, contact Ella Faulhaber by Jan. 15 at 515-294-1884 or CYFAR@iastate.edu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3% of children nationwide live apart from their parents, and of those, nearly two-thirds are being raised by grandparents. This means that more than 13 million U.S. children are living in homes with their grandparents.

“Grandparents raise their grandchildren for a variety of reasons,” continued Rader, who specializes in family life issues. “According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, it could be because of a temporary change in circumstance for the parents, such as military deployment or joblessness, or something more lasting like mental illness, divorce, incarceration, death or substance abuse.”

Providing full-time care to grandchildren can decrease a caregiver’s abilities to address their own health and well-being needs, Rader said. It can impact every part of a grandparent’s life — straining physical and mental health, social well-being, family relationships and finances.

Children raised by grandparents are more likely to experience challenges as well. According to a report published in the June 2017 journal Pediatrics, these children may have experienced traumatic events that will influence their development. However, researchers at Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child have found that children who have at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult are more likely to develop resilience.

“This means children who have a caring adult within the family are better able to face the risks brought on by traumatic events,” Rader said.

When trying to make the best out of a difficult situation, having grandparents raise their grandchildren often is preferable to putting children into foster care or temporary placements.

“Note that some well-known successful figures have been raised or partially raised by grandparents including Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Carol Burnett and Simone Biles,” the ISU Extension and Outreach specialist said.

“Grandparents who step in and care for their grandchildren are doing amazing work,” Rader said. “They should all be commended.”

Grandparents with grandchild using tablet.