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Executive Insights

Executive Insights

Grandparents playing greater roles
Kentucky School Advocate
February 2017
By Mike Armstrong
KSBA Executive Director
Embedded Image for:  (20171249504494_image.jpg) During a recent conversation, a local board of education member shared with me that she was surprised at the number of older persons in the audience during several school Christmas presentations. Coincidentally, another local board member shared that during an annual school cafeteria Christmas lunch, the number of older persons attending appeared to far outnumber the “usual” parents attending with their children.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center reports that 70,000 Kentucky children – 7 percent – are being raised by kinship caregivers; of that number, 62,000 are being raised by grandparents. The kinship care percentage is the highest among U.S. states; the percentage of Kentucky children being raised by grandparents is equaled by seven other states and exceeded by only three, according to the most recent Kids Count figures. Nationally, “In 2015, an estimated 2.9 million children were living with their grandparents, up from 2.5 million in 2005,” according to Kentucky Health News.

The Casey Foundation defines “kinship” as when “a parent is not present in the household; the child is not a foster child to the householder; the child is not a housemate/roommate/boarder with no relatives in the household; the child is not a householder, and the child is not a spouse or unmarried partner of the householder.”

Furthermore, the Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky says that “Children are unable to stay at home with their parents for a variety of reasons, including parental death, parental substance abuse, military deployment, abuse and neglect, parental physical or mental health issues, and parental disability.”

The 2009-2013 American Community Survey cites that “Eastern Kentucky has the highest rates of children being raised by grandparents.” Of the five eastern Kentucky area development districts, the Kentucky River ADD posts 11 percent of children being raised by grandparents, followed by the Cumberland Valley and Big Sandy ADDs, each at 9 percent. Both the Gateway and FIVCO ADDs indicate that 8 percent of children in their areas are being raised by grandparents.

So, who are these grandparents who are raising their grandchildren? The Kinship website reports that 79 percent of these households are white, non-Hispanic with a “lower median family income.” Forty-nine percent of these grandparents are still in the labor market; 37 percent are over the age of 59; more than a quarter of these families live in poverty; and 43 percent have provided kinship care for more than five years.

So why this explosion in the number of children and youth living with their grandparents? Teresa Wiltz, writing in Stateline, reports that “Child welfare officials say drug addiction, especially to the opioids, is behind much of the rise in the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren, just as it was during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s. An estimated 2.4 million people were addicted to opioids at last count. Caseworkers in many states say a growing number of children are neglected or abandoned by parents who are addicted. That has forced them to take emergency steps to handle a growing crisis in foster care – and often turn first to grandparents for help.”

Illegal drug possession and/or use likewise drives parents to incarceration. Nationally, about 7 percent of children have had a parent who was ever incarcerated, according 2011-12 data, the most recent available from Kids Count. Sadly, Kentucky leads the nation, reporting that 13 percent of our children have a parent who was ever incarcerated.

As we adjust to this evolving social reality, we should be especially thankful to loving and caring grandparents who are providing a home for their grandchildren. Let’s make them especially welcome in our schools and classrooms!
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