Guest post: 5 tips for grandfamilies facing mental health concerns

The United States is in a child and adolescent mental health emergency, as well as a national mental health crisis for Americans of all ages. While everyone can be affected, there is one particular type of family that is particularly vulnerable to mental health issues: grandfamilies.

What are great families?

Grandfamilies, also known as kinship families, are families in which grandparents, other relatives, or close family friends raise children without parents in the home. There is at least 2.4 million children grow up in grandmother families, and 7.6 million children live in households where another relative (not their parent) is the head of the family. Great families are diverse and exist in various geographies, socioeconomic statuses, races and ethnicities. However, they are disproportionately black, African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, and, in some areas, Latino.

Grandfamilies are formed by events that separate children from their parents, such as the death of a parent, incarceration, deportation, divorce, military deployment, or growing concerns about mental health and disorders. due to substance use. Research shows that between 2002 and 2019, grandparents reported that their parents’ substance use was a reason for raising their grandchildren. jumped from 21% to 40%.

Impacts on the mental health of the large family

Grandfamilies have many strengths, including resilience, which can mediate the effects of trauma; family connections and legacies; adaptability; and the ability to co-parent with biological parents. Research indicates that children in grandfamilies do better than when placed in unrelated foster care, especially when grandfamilies have the services and supports they need. However, mental health services and support systems remain difficult to navigate and access, if not impossible, due to high costs, lack of availability of qualified mental health providers, lack of culturally appropriate services, stigma, age discrimination and more.

Children and their grandparent caregivers can have many levels of trauma and mental health issues. Children may come into families with grandmothers with past traumatic experiences (such as a parental substance use disorder and other untreated mental health conditions, neglect, abuse, the trauma of being separated from their parents, and more) who They can cause significant mental health problems even when they live safely in the home of a large family. Children who have experienced trauma may live with learning difficulties, chronic health conditions, and mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The mental health, physical health, and overall well-being of caregivers in the extended family are also greatly affected when raising other people’s children. Caregivers may experience chronic stress not only from the common stressors of parenting and difficulties managing relationships with the child’s parents, but also from housing tensions, financial pressures, social isolation, food insecurity, lack of self-care and other problems caused by the sudden responsibility of raising children.

Birth parents of children living in grandfamilies often experience undiagnosed and/or treated mental health conditions. More than 1 in 4 adults live with serious mental health problems He also has a substance use problem.a key reason why children are placed in the care of relatives.

The pandemic, increased racial violence, war, and other events in recent years have added even more levels of stress and trauma for grandfamilies.

Research shows that better access to mental health supports and concrete material supports (such as financial, food and nutrition, housing, etc.) improves mental health outcomes for children and caregivers in grand families.

Tips for grand families

  1. Explore employer support: More than half of caregivers for grandchildren are in the workforce, and some employers offer supports that can be helpful. Employers can offer mental health support and treatment through health insurance, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), or employee support groups.
  2. Utilize school and community-based mental health supports: School counselors and social workers can often help provide support or direct grandfamilies to appropriate mental health services. Community mental health programs may also be helpful.
  3. Get accurate diagnoses for mental health problems: Accurate diagnoses for children and their caregivers can help understand behaviors and help obtain appropriate treatment. Understanding trauma is particularly critical in these situations.
  4. Find a large family support group: Connecting with other grandfamilies for support and understanding is critical, and support groups typically include education about challenges and resources. Find a support group by clicking on a state in the GrandFacts: Grand Family Fact Sheet Pagecontacting him local area agency on agingor ask at a child’s school.
  5. Take advantage of respite care: Large family caregivers need a respite (a break from caregiving) so they can manage chronic stress, care for themselves, and “reset.” Even a few hours can make a big difference. Respite care may be provided through home care, center-based care, camps, therapeutic recreation programs, Head Start, state-funded pre-K, community centers, YMCAs, after-school programs, or faith-based organizations. Also try looking for a respite program for large families through the ARCH National Respite Network.

Learn more about mental health concerns for grandfamilies and find resources to help families in Generations United’s 2023 State of Grandfamilies Report. Building resilience: supporting the mental health and well-being of grandmothersin gu.organd

Jaia Peterson Lent is the Deputy Executive Director of Generations United.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and external content does not necessarily reflect the views of Mental Health America.

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