Roughly 10 percent of the phone calls that ring in our OCSE customer service office are from grandparents seeking information about child support services; some have custody of their grandchildren. From conversations with these callers, we know that most grandparents who are thrust into custodianship of their grandchildren depend on access to public financial resources. Many, who may have accumulated some financial assets from years of working, are now living on fixed incomes. The OCSE staff helps to answer the grandparents’ questions about child support services, and often refers grandparent callers to other services, including SNAP (food stamps) and Access and Visitation services.
An AARP article tells its readers, “As increasing numbers of grandchildren rely on grandparents for the security of a home, their grandparents are taking on more of the responsibility for raising them in a tough economy—many with work challenges of their own. For these grandparents, raising another family wasn’t part of the plan. But they step up to the plate when their loved ones need them.”
A Pew Research Center analysis of Census data reports that 1 in 10 children in the United States lives with a grandparent. This ratio increased slowly and steadily over the past decade before rising sharply from 2007 to 2008, the first year of the recession. About 41 percent of those children are being raised primarily by the grandparent. And, nearly 20 percent of grandparent caregivers are living below the poverty level.
It isn’t a new phenomenon that grandparents often step in as primary caregivers. Grandparents step in, for example, to prevent the child from being moved into foster care or as a result of the parent’s military deployment, unemployment or incarceration. (A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than half of state inmates are parents.)
What is changing, however, is that child support agencies are beginning to help grandparents in a proactive customer-responsive manner. The article on page 1 of the May 2011 Child Support Report gives a snapshot of the Georgia Department of Human Resources’ holistic approach to providing grandparents with all of the available state services they might need. Georgia’s family-centered approach puts the OCSE “bubble chart” into action by providing a collaborative and coordinated approach to child support service delivery.
Does your state offer a holistic approach to providing services to grandparents? Please let me know by posting comments to this Commissioner’s Voice blog.