Over 2 million grandparents in the US are raising their grandchildren. While there may be much joy and satisfaction, there are also many challenges that grandparents face.
You need to look into your legal status when you are raising a grandchild. Without legal protection, you may have a hard time getting healthcare, schooling, or financial assistance. Some legal options include adoption, legal custody, or guardianship.
Adoption: Adoption cuts off all of the birth parents’ rights and responsibilities. The grandparent becomes the parent in the eyes of the law.
Legal custody: When you get a custody order from the court, you are responsible for the child's day-to-day care. Custody is granted based on the best interests of the child. A custody order is never permanent. The parents continue to have legal rights, such as the right to visit the child - unless a judge denies or limits the visits. You may still need parent's permission to make medical decisions or to enroll the child in school. Parents could regain custody again some day.
Guardianship: Being a legal guardian allows you to make important decisions for the child. You can enroll the child in school and give permission for a doctor to treat the child. A birth parent can go to court and ask for the guardianship to be ended. If this happens, the care and custody of the child is returned to the parent.
Ask a lawyer to help you decide what legal status is best for you and your grandchild.
The costs of raising grandchildren will affect your finances. It may change plans you have made for yourself such as retirement or vacations.
Government assistance may help cover food, housing, clothing, and mental healthcare. For example, your grandchildren may be eligible to receive a Social Security if they have a disability or if their parent has died. Your grandchild may qualify for your state's Children's Health Insurance Program. He or she may be eligible to get money from your state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Each state has their own programs for assisting children. Contact the state Department of Human Services or Social Services to find out what is available in your area. It is important to look into programs that can help with financial burdens. Using up savings and trying to work while caring for young children can be a strain that many grandparents cannot manage for long.
Your home may seem too crowded after grandkids move in. Some apartments and senior communities do not allow young children. You may need to move or look into other options to best meet the needs of your new living situation.
Check with your local school to find out how to enroll your grandchild. Some states won't let you enroll a child unless you have legal custody or guardianship. In other states, you only need to show that your grandchild lives with you. After your grandchild is enrolled, get to know the child's teacher.
Children need regular check-ups and immunizations. Many times, children may have mental or physical health problems that need special care. You may be able to get help from your state's Medicaid program. Medicaid pays heath care bills for people with low incomes.
You also need to take care of your own health. Take time each day to relax. Get regular checkups and take your prescribed medicines. Ask for help from friends and relatives. Join a support group.
Dealing with birth parents
Depending on the situation, you may be very angry and have lost respect for your child. It may not be easy to help your own child while trying to take over the care of your grandchildren. However, for the sake of your grandchild, try to keep the lines of communication open to the parents. If there is concern about harm to your grandchild, make sure that you take precautions and follow the court's orders to allow only supervised visits. Do not put your grandchild at risk.
Dealing with kids
The children may worry about their parents, feel guilty because they fear that they caused the parent's problems, or be scared that something might happen to you.
You may feel sorry for your grandchildren. It may be hard to say “no" or set limits. Or you may feel like you have to be stricter than you were with your child, so that your grandchildren will not have the same problems. You may wonder where you will find the energy to help children with their school work or to attend school activities.
The main thing to remember is that there are organizations and people who understand what you're going through and want to help.
One of the best places to start is the AARP's Grandparent Information Center (GIC). Phone: 1-888-687-2277 Web site: http://www.aarp.org/families/grandparents/gic/
Marlene Griffin R. N.
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