Supporting Grandparents in Parent Roles: How Home Visitors Can Help

*Today’s post has been excerpted and adapted from The Art and Practice of Home Visiting by Ruth Cook & Shirley Sparks

It’s not unusual for home visitors to visit homes in which the parenting role is being fulfilled by grandparents. Nationwide, 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, and about one fifth of those have incomes that fall below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census figures.

Grandparent families need all the support they can get from home visitors! Grandparents may feel isolated and feel they don’t fit into traditional parent support groups. Their own friends may be traveling and enjoying the leisure that comes with having an “empty nest.” They may need not only emotional support and support that addresses their own physical limitations, but also assistance with legal and financial issues.

Here are some helpful tips for home visitors to consider when working with grandparents who are parenting young children with support needs:

Create a partnership with grandparents that conveys and develops trust. Given the usual age difference between the grandparents and the home visitor, building a relationship may seem a little daunting. Acknowledging and respecting the grandparents’ knowledge and encouraging them to express their opinions will go a long way toward establishing a productive relationship. Keep in mind the need for cultural sensitivity, because some grandparents may be less assimilated into the mainstream culture than the child’s parents.

Carefully explain the services that are available and help grandparents access them. Grandparents may never have heard of respite, for example, and may need to be encouraged to accept services for themselves as well as the child.

Simplify the delivery of services as much as possible. As grandparents may be less mobile and more easily fatigued, minimizing the number of professionals and appointments involved will relieve stress and save energy. Keep in mind that grandparents may also lack sufficient transportation to agency offices.

Encourage grandparents to join grandparent support groups or help them organize a playgroup. Groups like these may help grandparents avoid isolation and realize that others also have parented children who are unable to fulfill their adult responsibilities.

Share the 24 low-cost learning activities in this post with grandparents to help them bond with their grandchildren and boost their learning!

Be aware of grandparents’ physical limitations and health challenges. Arranging for a physical therapist to assist grandparents when lifting their grandchild may prevent injury or pain to the caregiver.

Be prepared to find services that can address legal issues. Each state is different in how grandparents’ legal status is handled in relation to the child’s biological parents. Providing grandparents with the ability to make medical decisions and enrolling them in educational services may depend on addressing their legal status. Besides referral to local attorneys, home visitors should be prepared to make referrals to law clinics and others who provide pro bono or low-cost assistance.

Be knowledgeable about how financial assistance is obtained. Grandparents may need assistance in obtaining such services as social security disability insurance and Medicaid, home energy assistance and weatherization, food stamps, WIC, and opportunities for tax credits.

Assist interested grandparents in using the internet and contacting national resources. Finding information electronically may not come as naturally to the current generation of grandparents as it will to future generations of grandparents. If children are diagnosed with FASD or are affected by prenatal drugs, for example, home visitors should help educate the grandparents about the behaviors typical of children with these diagnoses.

Resources That Can Help

For further assistance, connect grandparents with the following online resources on raising grandchildren:

Some of these tips were also adapted from Rowan, L. (2006, Fall). Tips for providing services to grandparent families: Lessons learned. News Exchange, 11(3), 1–27.

The Art and Practice of Home Visiting, Second Edition

By Ruth E. Cook, Ph.D., & Shirley N. Sparks, M.S., CCC-SLP

Presenting a collaborative, family-centered approach to home visiting, Cook and Sparks prepare professionals to form respectful, productive partnerships with caregivers. Home visitors will get in-depth guidance on complex issues, including implementing evidence-based practice; providing trauma-informed care; and addressing challenges with sleep, feeding, and behavior.

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