Grandparents and Kin Raising Children

Carie Fanning of Los Alamos sharing a laugh with her grandson

Grandparents and Kin Raising Children

A growing yet underserved segment of our state speaks up on the joys and challenges of raising their grandchildren and kin.

By Anna Marie Garcia

Grandparents and kin raising or helping to raise children is so common in our state that many of us do not think twice when we encounter families or households with children where the parents are not present. But the growing number of grandparents and kin raising children is shedding light on the numerous challenges and struggles that many endure to keep their families intact.

An estimated 31,000 kids in our state are being raised by grandparents, though this number is very likely underreported and it does not include children being raised by relatives, such as aunts, uncles, and siblings. It also may not include families in which grandparents play a parental role part of the time or temporarily.

What is not in doubt is that many of the grandparents and kin raising children struggle to find the resources they need. Meanwhile, this community is saving the state millions of dollars a year by keeping many of these children out of the overburdened foster care system. Foster parents receive monthly reimbursements to help them provide food, clothing, shelter, and transportation for their foster children. Grandparents and kin receive no such reimbursements from the state. And while foster parents are approved after a lengthy process for which they volunteer, many grandparents and relatives find themselves in the position of being a full-time caregiver with little or no time for preparation.

In my role as Vice President of Early Childhood Education at the LANL Foundation, my team and I oversee a Grandparents/Kin Raising Children (GKRC) Advisory Council that aims to identify the needs facing this community and helps to support and connect them with the resources they need. In 2021, we conducted a survey to grandparents and kin, to assist in determining the specific needs and challenges facing this community. The survey was distributed to a little under one hundred families, and almost 80% of the surveys were completed.

This survey identified six core needs for grandparents and kin raising children: financial, respite, therapy/counseling, education training, stipends, mentorships for children and access to legal services.

Respite

Far and away the most common challenge named by survey participants was not having enough time for themselves. This is especially challenging as many are at or reaching an age where they had planned to retire but find themselves facing an entirely new full time role, for which many feel unprepared.

“I would have retired by now had I not had this additional child,” said one respondent. “I wouldn’t give her up, but I’d really like to retire.”

The lack of respite also contributes to mental stress and physical health issues. As we all know, childcare is expensive and hard to find, and without it there are no breaks for grandparents to unwind and relax.

Larry Acosta of Bosque Farms holds his napping grandson

Larry Acosta of Bosque Farms holds his napping grandson.

Therapy/Counseling

Many of our respondents reported needing therapy for themselves and/or the children they’re raising. It is quite common for grandparents and kin to assume parental roles when the parents have died, been incarcerated, or are unable to care for their kids due to drug addiction or other issues. This takes a heavy toll on both kids (whose parents are no longer present) and grandparents (who have lost their child in one way or another). Therapy can be expensive and inaccessible. Many counselors do not take insurance or are already at capacity for clients.

Support groups can provide grandparents and relatives with a safe space to share experiences and advice, but they do not provide individual counseling.

Education Trainings

As many of us know, it is a whole new world of parenting. Online school, cell phones, cyber bullying, ADHD, autism, and dyslexia are just some of the territories that grandparents would like help navigating. Many of the children they are raising have experienced trauma or toxic stress, and grandparents and kin are often tasked with supporting them through the struggles that often follow.

LANL Foundation offers free training in areas of nutrition, selfcare, supporting children with autism, and more. You can follow us on Facebook or Instagram (@lanlfoundation) to stay informed of our learning opportunities. The trainings are offered in a number of different ways, such as in person, on-line, or hybrid.

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Stipends

Kids are expensive. Over 60% of our survey respondents said they struggle financially. Over 20% of the grandparents raising children in our state live in poverty.

“We were not financially prepared to raise children once again,” said one respondent. “My vehicle needs maintenance for commuting to school, the therapist, and doctors. My granddaughter needs a Chromebook or computer to do her homework,” said another.

While there are some state stipends available to grandparents and kin who legally adopt the children they’re raising, only 14.5% of survey respondents said that they had completed the adoption process. Adding insult to injury, the adoption process itself is very costly in both time and money.

Mentorship for Kids

A mentor can play a valuable role in a child’s life both as someone to provide emotional support and as someone who can help prepare children for college or careers. Children who have undergone trauma are in particular need of these positive relationships. These mentors also help ease the burden for grandparents by giving them some downtime and helping with school subjects or technology that grandparents might struggle with.

Finding these mentors, however, is not easy. According to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central New Mexico, the process of matching a child to a mentor can take up to two years, depending on the availability of volunteers.

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Legal Aid Services

The legal issues surrounding raising a child that is not your own are numerous and complicated. Over 50% of respondents to our survey indicated that they did not know or were uncertain as to the legal status of their relationship with the children they are raising. Only 11% said they had legal custody of their kids. Many of them said they just stepped into a guardian role when the parent(s) of the children either left, were imprisoned, or passed away.

Despite the unplanned nature of many of these arrangements, they often become permanent or persist for years. Over 73% of respondents to our survey said they’ve been responsible for their grandchildren or kin for five years or more. Obtaining custody, however, is a lengthy and complex process. Some grandparents do not seek custody because of the additional emotional stress that a custody battle involves. Others would very much like to seek custody, but accessing affordable legal advice is near impossible.

“Many legal aid services do not take on adoption cases or they are backlogged with many cases,” said one respondent. “I’m moving towards adoption, but the attorney fees are tremendous,” said another.

Even approaching an attorney is an intimidating thought for many families who are unsure if the children in their care might be taken away from them because they do not have a written custody arrangement.

Until the state delivers on more substantial resources for grandparents and kin raising children—and we are working on that—here are some helpful resources.

Anna Marie Garcia is LANL Foundation’s vice president of early childhood education. Having earned a master’s degree in early childhood/special education, Anna Marie is currently pursuing a doctorate in early childhood social justice. Anna Marie is passionate about building and strengthening local communities through advocacy, education, and meaningful collaboration.

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