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Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Need Community Support Above All, MU Family Expert Says

Dec. 11, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, (573) 882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Going to Grandma or Grandpa’s house for the holidays will mean staying home for thousands of children. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 4.5 million children are being raised by grandparents or other relatives. Grandparents who find themselves as parents for the second time around need to know they are not alone, according to a University of Missouri family expert.

 “It is an issue that totally surprises people including those who find themselves raising young children during their golden years,” said Elizabeth Reinsch, human development specialist for MU Extension. “The issue is much more prevalent than in the past; however, our first president and first lady, George and Martha Washington, actually raised their grandchildren.”

 MU Extension works to raise community awareness of the issue and facilitate support groups for people who raise their grandchildren. Often, according to Reinsch, people feel alone and don’t know where to turn for help or answers to important questions.

 “You can’t read everything and can’t study it all on your own, particularly if you’ve been thrown into this situation, which many times happens when you least expect it,” Reinsch said. “Many of the people we deal with are retirees who are looking forward to those enjoyable years in life only to find out that all of the sudden they are responsible for the care of a six-month-old baby.”

 Support groups are vital so caregivers can realize they are not alone. They can learn from others, share ideas, lend and receive emotional support, and find answers to important legal questions. Many grandparents need answers to questions about custody, guardianship, adoption issues, public benefits, legal services and problem solving.

 “In order to get the support and assistance that many caregivers need, they have to take the legal avenue and many people are leery of getting involved in the system,” Reinsch said. “It can be an extremely emotional issue because you are asking people to go in front of a judge and call their own children unfit parents.”

 Reinsch, who also coordinates the Gateway Grandparents/Kinship Network in the St. Louis area, believes that spreading the word to communities about this growing issue and creating a system of support is very valuable. In Missouri, more than 45,000 grandparents reported to the U.S. Census Bureau that they are responsible for raising their own grandchildren. MU Extension works to raise awareness and educate churches, schools and service providers on this issue and help establish new support groups. People with any type of parenting question can get help by calling ParentLink at 1-800-552-8522 or ParentLink En Espanol at 1-888-460-0008 or visit

 “I’ve seen grandparents attend a support group for the first time and be in tears because they thought they were alone until that moment,” Reinsch said.