Raising Grandchildren in the Inner-City: The Effects of a "Skipped Generation" on Older Women

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: A Group Intervention

Principal Investigator: Denise Burnette, PhD, MSSW (CUSSW)
Group Leader and Project Facilitator: Randy Tanzer, CSW (JBFCS)
Project Facilitators: Jennifer Crumpley, CSW, Jonathon Katz, CSW; Vicki Rosenstreich, ASCW   and Ruby Thompson, CA (JBFCS)  

The U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates that 3.4 million children, or 5% of all children age 18 and under lived with a grandparent in 1990--representing a 40% increase over the prior decade (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1991). The AARP Grandparent Information Center newsletter recently reported on data from 1993 and 1994 Current Population Surveys that show a 25% increase in the number of grandchildren in grandparent care in that one year alone. 
This continuing trend is due to a confluence of factors, including structural changes in the multigenerational family, the effects of social health problems, notably illicit drug use and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and sociocultural norms and public policies that govern family responsibility (Burnette, in press a). Self help/mutual aid strategies remain the most popular means for helping caregiving grandparents cope with the multiple stressors they face. Such resources include written guides (de Toledo & Brown, 1995; Takas, 1995), local, regional, and national resource centers (AARP, 1994) and a proliferation of support groups. The AARP Grandparent Information Center (1994) currently lists more than 400 such groups nationwide. Yet the content, format, and efficacy of these groups are still largely undocumented.
The purpose of the school-based small group intervention co-led by a JBFCS on-site social worker and the principal investigator was to explore the efficacy of a structured, time-limited group intervention based on principles of psychoeducation and mutual aid. Pre- and post-test scores on measures of well-being, coping, social support, and knowledge of service were examined. Findings on the General Health Questionnaire indicated that group members were doing well overall. Of the 4 subscales, the only significant change observed was improvement in scores on severe depressive symptoms. This subscale assesses feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and suicidal ideation. 
Scores on 3 of the 8 subscales of the Ways of Coping Inventory changed significantly. "Distancing" strategies decreased, while "Seeking Social Support" and "Planful Problem Solving" increased. Significant changes were thus observed in the priority of one emotion-focused  (distancing) and one problem-focused (planful problem solving) strategy. Social support, which encompasses both types of coping also increased, indicating that grandparents used this way of coping widely--a finding further confirmed by the Social Support Behaviors Scale, which showed high levels of support at both points and little change over time. 
With the exception of child nutrition programs, which 82 % of grandparents were familiar with, the proportion of group members who knew how to access each of 16 available community-based services either stayed constant or increased at post-test. Knowledge of services available to meet grandchildren's needs was higher at pretest, and the greatest increases were for services related to grandparents' mental health and well-being (i.e. stress management, a toll-free hotline, and personal, marital, and family counseling). 
Finally, group members also evaluated their perceptions of the group. These reports indicated a high level of satisfaction and suggested that most benefits were derived from sharing their experience with similarly situated grandparents and from learning problem solving skills for coping. Satisfaction with emotional aspects of caregiving, e.g. feeling shame and overcoming hurt, were reported as less important, perhaps due to the group's short-term nature or to participants having access to these supports from other social and/or spiritual sources. The findings of the study were presented at the Council on Social Work Education 1996 Annual Program meeting and the 48th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America. An article on the study will appear in Research on Social Work Practice in 1997. 
While design and sample size limitations common to agency-based research preclude definitive conclusions about the effects of the group per se, the findings do suggest areas for future research on well-being, coping strategies, social support, and knowledge of health and social services for this rapidly growing population and significant subgroups. A two-year grant from the AARP- Andrus Foundation has enabled me to examine the strengths and needs of skipped-generation Latino families in New York City, which is now being completed. 

The study was described in the 1994 issue of Practice & Research.

 AARP (Summer, 1996). Parenting grandchildren: A voice for grandparents, 2 (2), 1-2. Washington D.C: Author.
 American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) (1994). The trend continues. The AARP Grandparent Information Center Newsletter. Washington DC: Author.
 Burnette, D. (In press a). Grandparents rearing grandchildren in the inner city: Background, service needs, and directions for practice and policy.  Families in Society
 Burnette, D. (In press b). Grandparents rearing grandchildren: A small-group, school- based intervention.  Research on Social Work Practice.
 de Toledo, S. & Brown, D.E. (1995). Grandparents as parents: A survival guide for raising a second family. New York: Guilford Press.
 U.S. Bureau of the Census (1991). Current population reports: Marital status and living arrangements: March 1990. (Series P-20 No. 450). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.