Advocates alarmed at rate of grandparents raising grandchildren

Tuesday, May 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Eldercare advocates are alarmed at how many grandparents are having to raise their grandchildren these days.

Abandonment, abuse and incarceration have fractured their children's families, forcing grandparents to take on roles they believed their had completed, Barbara Almon, geriatric case manager for the Tulsa Area Agency on Aging, said.

According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, one in six Oklahoma children is living with a grandparent or grandparents.

``I went into shock when I discovered the magnitude of the problem of grandparents having to raise their grandchildren. And it looks like the situation is only getting worse,'' Almon said Monday during the first day of the annual Oklahoma Conference on Aging.

Eldercare workers have a name for the group: GAPs, Grandparents-as-Parents. About 43,000 Oklahoma children under the age of 18 live in grandparent-headed households.

``These grandparents are making tremendous sacrifices to preserve their families ... to keep their blood rights. They're willing to step in when someone else won't or can't,'' Almon said.

``For retirees, these should be the fun years, the golden years. But instead of taking vacations, they're having to enroll their grandchildren in kindergarten and drive them to soccer games.''

The AARP and the Oklahoma Department of Human Service schedule annual conferences and seminars to address the problem.

``I know of an AARP volunteer who thought she'd be taking care of her grandson for two weeks,'' Nancy Coffer, Oklahoma AARP director, said. ``Those two weeks turned into seven years and counting.

``Suddenly, for a wide variety of reasons, grandparents find themselves unable to get on with their own lives.''

Many grandparents need financial, emotional and educational support, Coffer and Almon said. They also have to understand ``behavioral problems and deal with issues that were foreign to them years ago when they were parents,'' Almon said.

Judy Leitner, community relations director with DHS's state Aging Services Division, called grandparents the true heroes of American society because they attempt to keep families together.