Raising Grandchildren in the Inner-City: The Effects of a "Skipped
Generation" on Older Women
Principal Investigator: Denise Burnette, PhD, MSSW (CUSSW)
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: A Group Intervention
and Project Facilitator: Randy Tanzer, CSW (JBFCS)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.