Grandparents Raising Grandchildren


Many grandparents are finding themselves raising their children’s children for a variety of reasons, which include incarceration of the parent, substance abuse and illnesses such as HIV/AIDS. Willie Mae Durdon, who lives in Englewood, said she has guardianship of five of her grandchildren. “I needed help with clothing and furniture,” she said.

Durdon turned to Childserv’s Grandfamily Support Program. The program, based in Chicago, offers assistance to grandparents who have become the primary caregivers of their grandchildren. “I have the furniture and the clothes, and I moved into [an apartment] building they were able to get me into.” Durdon said whenever she needs to call on Grandfamily Support, they help her.

In a press release issued in December 2008, the California University Grandparent Caregiver Information Project reported that the number of children living with their grandparents increased by 50 percent in the last few years. Generations United, an organization focused on improving the lives of children, youth and older people, reported that nearly 214,000 children living in households headed by grandparents reside in Illinois. Childserv’s Grandfamily Support Program extends help to families throughout Chicagoland. Many of these families reside in the Englewood and Austin communities and are living on fixed incomes, said Kimberly Young, a coordinator of the support program. “An average senior’s income is less than $25,000 a year. These people were recognized as underserved,” she said. “They are taking on extra responsibilities with children who tend to have special circumstances and special needs, but are getting fewer services than somebody would if they were going through the Department of Children and Family Services.”

The program provides support in many ways, said Young, from direct financial support from the organization, to meetings where the clients can mingle with each other and provide information, ideas, consolation, etc. to another grandparent who might need it. The two-hour meetings are held once a month at different locations throughout the city. Augustine Tabb found out about the program while attending an event at the Westside Recreational Senior Center. “I’m at the center quite a bit,” she said. “I saw the people gathering. Me, as I am, I wanted to know what was going on. And that’s when I found out about the program meetings. And I’ve been attending the meetings ever since.”

Tabb lives in the Austin neighborhood. She is raising an 11-year-old grandson with special needs and a 14 year-old granddaughter. She said raising two children as a single parent isn’t easy. She needed help physically, mentally, spiritually and financially, and said she received it all from the program. Last year, she was able to get all the school supplies she needed, and the children were provided with gifts through the program at Christmas. “We even get a chance to go out and have dinner without the kids,” she said. “Childserv thinks about us as well. They have really been a blessing to me and my family. I have enjoyed being with them every minute.”

Grandfamily Support offers advocacy support such as making sure the children receive specific school tests that they are entitled to, and making sure they’re enrolled in proper schools, Young said. The program also provides grandparents with community information such as food pantries, help with utility bills, needed healthcare services, and day camps.

Joyce Matthews, who also lives in Austin, is responsible for grandchildren ages 10, 14 and 15. Her sister, who is responsible for one of her own grandchildren, told Matthews about the program. Matthews had adopted seven grandchildren. Four of them went to college and are doing very well, she said, but she needed help with the other children. “The program helped me with beds and everything. And they helped me pay my rent. They helped with school uniforms and supplies, which I really didn’t have the money to buy. It was a blessing from God.” Some people who are raising their grandchildren have no other support in the world, said Young. “People who have not been able to take care of their children, for whatever reason, have dropped them off on these grandparents, and other family members either turn away or don’t want to get involved. They just have us,” she said. “When somebody says they’ve gained emotionally or spiritually, I think that comes through their interactions and our support for them.”

When the program helps a grandparent out of a financial emergency, it’s called gap-filling, she said. “We call it gap filling because sometimes there is a gap between what you need and what you have. If they don’t have the extra income, you can’t tell a 70-year-old woman to get out there and get a part-time job.” The clients benefit physically because when there is a way to relieve the tension and stress, there is usually a change in them physically, said Young.

Some of the senior satellite centers offer exercise programs and classes on relieving stress. “We definitely have seen a lot of growth in our program as to getting people aware of our services. We’ve seen an increased level of participation. We can give a few dollars, but to see them come out and enjoy other grandparents is a success in the program for me.” Childserv’s Grandfamily Support Program goes out to churches and community fairs to provide awareness about the program and the requirements of becoming a client. “Our Illinois contract allows us to serve 35-year-old grandparents,” said Young. “Our Chicago contract is for people 55 and older. The program does home assessments to make sure the children are living there, but a grandparent doesn’t have to have documents showing legal custody. “We don’t turn any grandparent away.”

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