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Celebrating Grandfamilies This Grandparent's Day!

The relationship between a child and their grandparents is very special. Oftentimes a grandparent is a safe place for a child; where they can go to get spoiled with love and sweets. Then they are sent back to their parents who have to deal with the sugar rush. However, it is becoming increasingly common that grandparents are having to step into the role of primary caregiver creating a grandfamily. September 12th is Grandparent's Day and we want to take this opportunity to highlight the strengths of grandfamilies while continuing to explore their unique needs. We know there are few things more impactful than when someone shares their story; so we sat down with Beth Jester, who with her husband, is raising her two grandchildren and has been for the last 6 years. She shared with us what it was like to transition from grandmother to primary caregiver, what challenges she faced, and why she ultimately decided to start the support group she had been relentlessly searching for.

Role confusion may be an issue as they transition from the role of grandparent to primary caregiver. {"A?":"B","a":5,"d":"B","h":"","c":"DAEJ7rzOk7s","i":"u6KOA8YXXBBQVUud4i56vQ","b":1630689966983,"A":[{"A?":"K","A":768.551024808957,"B":24.87002957542535,"D":749.4620342072486,"C":108.55495910644531,"a":{"A":[{"A?":"A","A":"Grandparents may be concerned about their own health and the ability to raise a child at their age. \nThey may not be able to afford their own healthcare and the healthcare of their grandchildren.    \nIt can be overwhelming to think about how old they will be once their grandchildren graduate.   \nThey may need prompts and ideas on how to take the time for their mental and physical health - it is ultimately better for the children in the long run.\n"}],"B":[{"A?":"A","A":{"head-indent":{"B":"1700.0"},"list-level":{"B":"1.0"},"list-marker":{"B":"disc"}}},{"A?":"B","A":4},{"A?":"A","A":{"text-transform":{"B":"none"},"color":{"B":"#000000"},"font-weight":{"B":"normal"},"leading":{"B":"1400.0"},"font-size":{"B":"16.0"},"font-family":{"B":"YADQrrekwhU,0"},"font-style":{"B":"normal"},"tracking":{"B":"0.0"}}},{"A?":"B","A":42},{"A?":"A","A":{"head-indent":{"A":"1700.0"},"list-level":{"A":"1.0"},"list-marker":{"A":"disc"}}},{"A?":"B","A":54},{"A?":"A","A":{"head-indent":{"B":"1700.0"},"list-level":{"B":"1.0"},"list-marker":{"B":"disc"}}},{"A?":"B","A":1},{"A?":"A","A":{"head-indent":{"A":"1700.0"},"list-level":{"A":"1.0"},"list-marker":{"A":"disc"}}},{"A?":"B","A":98},{"A?":"A","A":{"head-indent":{"B":"1700.0"},"list-level":{"B":"1.0"},"list-marker":{"B":"disc"}}},{"A?":"B","A":1},{"A?":"A","A":{"head-indent":{"A":"1700.0"},"list-level":{"A":"1.0"},"list-marker":{"A":"disc"}}},{"A?":"B","A":96},{"A?":"A","A":{"head-indent":{"B":"1700.0"},"list-level":{"B":"1.0"},"list-marker":{"B":"disc"}}},{"A?":"B","A":42},{"A?":"A","A":{"head-indent":{"A":"1700.0"},"list-level":{"A":"1.0"},"list-marker":{"A":"disc"}}},{"A?":"B","A":111},{"A?":"A","A":{"head-indent":{"B":"1700.0"},"list-level":{"B":"1.0"},"list-marker":{"B":"disc"}}},{"A?":"B","A":1},{"A?":"A","A":{"text-transform":{"A":"none"},"color":{"A":"#000000"},"font-weight":{"A":"normal"},"leading":{"A":"1400.0"},"font-size":{"A":"16.0"},"font-family":{"A":"YADQrrekwhU,0"},"font-style":{"A":"normal"},"tracking":{"A":"0.0"},"head-indent":{"A":"1700.0"},"list-level":{"A":"1.0"},"list-marker":{"A":"disc"}}}]},"b":{},"d":"A","g":false,"h":"A"}],"B":793.7007874015748,"C":1122.51968503937} Reunification services cause a lot of challenges for many grandfamilies. Many grandparents find that reunification is rushed and that it may not be in the best interest of the children. The manner in which they gain custody of their grandchildren could be traumatic for both the child and the grandparent.  Trauma informed providers may be necessary.  Common ways in which grandchildren may be placed into the custody of their grandparents are:  Substance Abuse Disorder Incarceration  Death  Grandparents informally raising their grandchildren face additional challenges as far as legal protections, access to records, educational and medial decision making, the fear that the children can be taken back by the parent if they ask for child support, etc. If they gained custody because their child has or had substance abuse disorder, they may have fears about their grandchildren "going down a similar road."

"My husband and I have had our grandchildren now for 6 years. They were 4 months and 2 and a half years old when we got them. Their parents had struggled previously with addiction. After my grandson was born they both picked up again unfortunately with the addiction. They were in another state and we had to go down and get them. We went down and got them about 4 different times. said Jester.

When asked about gaining custody of her grandchildren Jester explained: "By law, you can get them medical help without custody, but it was difficult enrolling them in school and everybody asks you right away. They know you’re a grandparent they can see that you aren’t a parent-aged person. Everyone asks for custody upfront. When we went to get custody of the children we didn’t know where to go. We had no idea where to even start and we had no peers to ask what to do. We went to our local bar association for help and she charged us 5k upfront and we didn’t know anything different. She couldn’t get custody because they were in a different state. She kept the money and was no help. My husband had to fly to the state they were in and find them and get them to sign the papers because there are a lot of things you can’t do without custody. Now in retrospect, I’ve heard this story over and over again."

To create our tip sheet on grandfamilies we spoke to grandparents raising their grandchildren from around the state. When speaking with them we learned that when you first become the primary caregiver of your grandchildren a wide array of emotions hits you all at once. We asked Jester about this and she couldn't agree more. "It's hard to realize that this is the reality of this is your new life. It’s sudden it doesn’t sneak up on you it’s traumatic. Let me think of all the words. It’s shocking, it’s life-altering, it’s exhausting. The guilt would come and go. It was also mourning the life you thought you had and now you know that’s over. It’s not what you had envisioned for this chapter of your life. It is not what we expected. You’re not amongst your peers all of your friends and neighbors- you’re alone in what choice you have made." said Jester.

"You just don’t have any peers. When you are a young parent you have a lot in common with your neighbors and your friends and you all hang out together. I kind of felt like we are in a position that widows are in. You always hear that when someone's spouse dies other couples stop asking them to go places. All my friends and family meant well but in reality, everyone has their own lives and people move on you arent just a couple anymore." said Jester. This feeling of isolation had Jester in search of other grandfamilies. She wanted to speak with and bounce ideas off of other people who understood the situation she was in. Her first thought was to find a support group that she could attend, so she began her search.

It was a lengthy search that pretty much led her nowhere. "I looked all over my county and I couldn’t find one. I mean I called for several months everyone I could think of. People kept sending me to other people." said Jester. "I went to a function through this State Representative that had speakers from Penn State studying grandfamilies. I ran into a woman that I knew when I was a young mom in my 20s and we both asked the other why we were there but we knew. Together we started the support group we had both needed. She has since left because of personal reasons and I am running it by myself, although I don’t hesitate to ask other members for help here or there."

It began in the spring of 2019 and by our first year, we had 25 families represented so we found out it was a really big need. We had 3 speakers that spring and 3 in the fall. We found another group in Chester county and spoke with the leader there and we followed what they did because they had been out there for 10 years. We operate from March-May and September-November. The leader of the Chester county support group told us that grandfamilies are busy with camps, vacations, etc. in the summer and over the winter it’s more difficult to get people to come out.", said Jester.

A flyer Jester shared with us. The Support Group is NOT limited to members of the church or Bucks County residents. All are welcome.

"We meet at Lenape Valley Church; we are a support group of the church. We start out in prayer and then we have a time when I give out resources and announcements and upcoming events. Then we go around 1 person at a time and share briefly about our lives and how we came to be a grandfamily. If someone is in a crisis, meaning they are brand new to this or they are struggling with something that has occurred, we give them extra time. I have a resource book that I leave on the table and they can take pictures of that is 4 inches thick. A grandparent will explain a challenge they are having and I will point to a resource in the book that may help them. Everything from Medicaid, to preschool subsidies, and so much more." said Jester.

"The top concerns discussed in our support group include; finances, respite because of exhaustion day in and day out and its hard to ever find time for a break or normalcy, and support in general," said Jester. Support is one thing that a grandparent can expect when attending one of their meetings. "To support each other the grandparents share stories of how they have been in the same place as the person asking for advice and they tell the group what they did in that situation. We don’t tell people what to do we tell them about our personal experiences or resources available for them pertaining to what they share. I encourage them to share contact information so they can support one another in between meetings."

This connection is not just vital for the grandparents but also for the grandchildren. When they are talking to their peers at school it is harder to relate to them because most of them are being raised by their parents. "Our meetings include meals and babysitting. All of them know the other kids there are raised by their grandparents and they can just have fun together. For the grandparents it’s nice they don’t have to cook a meal. It’s one thing off their very full plate. We have a grant so there is no charge for the meals. We have the deacons at our church serve the meals and do whatever we need. It’s important for support and resources and comradery. We are not alone and neither are the kids." said Jester.

This idea of helping children who are being raised by their grandparents feel like they aren't alone is very important to Jester. "I have written a children's book to help children understand that they are not alone in being raised by their grandparents." We are honored to share some of Jester's story with you and are looking forward to her upcoming book that yet again helps to fill that very large need of prioritizing and normalizing grandfamilies.


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