The circumstances varied: Drugs, sudden death, mental illness, neglect, abuse or a combination of these problems.
But many of the men and women at the Madison County Extension Office on Tuesday did have one thing in common – they are grandparents raising their grandchildren.
The Grandparents as Parents Conference featured several guest speakers and agency representatives who set up booths offering resources for these grandmothers and grandfathers who, at one time, thought their days of child-rearing were behind them.
“It was a shift you never expected,” speaker Martha Evans Sparks told the group.
Sparks, one of the conference’s speakers, has not raised any grandchildren. But the author spent 42 years helping her late husband manage his chronic illness, the last five of which were as his full-time caregiver.
However, she uses her background in psychology and journalism, along with personal experience, to provide support and advice to grandparents raising grandchildren. She also has authored the book, “Raising Your Children’s Children.”
“Many grandparents believe it will be short-term,” Sparks said about raising grandchildren when their parents cannot.
Some grandparents think that once one or both parents see that they’ve lost custody of their children, they’ll get their act together.
Sadly, she said, that often is not the case.
“It’s better to make long-term plans than to expect to be pleasantly surprised,” she advised.
Sparks’ talk urged the grandparents present to do everything they could to take care of themselves, both physically and mentally. She gave several tips on how to do that, from taking advantage of “Mom’s Day Out” programs at churches and swapping childcare time with other parents and grandparents, to asking family and friends for help.
Sparks added that hiring a babysitter now and then, even if it usually is cost-prohibitive, can be a relief.
“Sometimes it’s worth it as a gift to yourself,” Sparks said.
She also acknowledged the difficulty grandparents face when their grandchildren come to them already suffering from neglect, physical or sexual abuse or emotional problems.
This often leaves grandparents wondering why the child-rearing practices they used in the past aren’t working, and they blame themselves.
“Love might not be enough,” Sparks said. “... You may need therapeutic methods to get a child on track.”
Madison Family Court Judge Jeffery Wasson and grief/crisis counselor Dr. Judy Keith also spoke at the conference.
The Madison County Extension Office offers a monthly group for grandparent caregivers. The Grandparents as Parents support group meets from 10 a.m. to noon on the first Tuesday of the month at the county extension office, 230 Duncannon Lane, Richmond.
Concerns about state cuts
Linda LeForce, who attended the conference, is raising three children 5 and under – a set of 3-year-old twins and a 5-year-old.
She said both the mother and fathers of the children are involved in drugs.
One challenge LeForce has faced is learning all the changes in childcare since she was a mother. She said she reads articles and books on childcare as often as she can.
“You just have to balance everything,” LeForce said about what she has learned.
She worries that the recent dramatic cuts in state childcare and kinship care assistance, which many grandparents rely heavily on, will make it even harder for her and others to raise their grandchildren.
Advocates have predicted the $58 million in cuts will result in more guardians and parents being out of work because they cannot find affordable childcare, and more relatives being unable to financially take on neglected or abused children, resulting in more kids in foster care.
Kinship care, which provides a $300 monthly stipend to relatives other than parents, has increased 38 percent since 2007, according to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
People who currently receive kinship care stipends and childcare subsidies will not be affected, however, since April 1 there has been a moratorium on assistance applications.
However, despite all the challenges, LeForce said one of the best parts of her day is seeing the excitement on her 5-year old’s face when she picks the child up from headstart.
“She shouts ‘Grandma! Grandma!’” LeForce said with a big smile.
GRANDPARENTS AS PARENTS
The number of grandparents responsible for the basic needs of one or more grandchildren under 18 living with them in 2010.
The number of grandparents responsible for grandchildren who were in the labor force.
The number of grandparents who had a disability and were responsible for their grandchildren
The number of children under 18 living with a grandparent householder in 2010. (This is now estimated to be near 6 million.)
Percentage of children in the U.S. living with a grandparent in 2010, totaling 7.5 million.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 American Community Survey