Grandparents raising grandchildren is the topic of the latest interim study to be conducted in the coming months by the Oklahoma State Senate.
Senator Daisy Lawler, D-Comanche, helped bring awareness to the issue when she requested the study this summer. The Human Resources Committee had their first meeting at the State Capitol on Wednesday to discuss demographics, legal issues and programs offered by the Department of Human Services.
According to 2000 U.S. Census statistics, this is a growing problem in the state, as well as the nation. More than eight percent of Oklahoma children live in grandparent or other relative-maintained households.
"Sadly, Oklahoma has the second highest percentage in the nation of grandparents who are the primary caregivers to one or more children," said Lawler. "That's well above the national average, which shows that one in twelve children are now being raised by a grandparent or other relative."
Legislators and various state agency heads spent the day at the Grand Rally, also at the Capitol, visiting with grandparents and other relatives who are serving as parents. The event was part of the annual Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Conference, an event which allows families the opportunity to express their concerns which have so far gone unattended.
Grandparents and other relatives raising children face numerous barriers. Many of these caregivers live on fixed incomes and finding safe and affordable housing is a major concern. Some live in senior housing, where children are not allowed and those found with kids can face eviction. Another problem is navigating the legal system. There are few resources for most grandparents to assist with the cost of adoption, guardianship, or other legal proceedings. Many grandparents are forced to delay retirement or go back to work to meet the financial needs of caring for children.
Obtaining child and health care are two other major concerns for these families. Child care can be difficult to obtain if the grandparent or other relative does not have legal custody or guardianship. If families are not operating on a formal arrangement, problems arise in dealing with schools and medical providers in addition to the added financial cost for working relatives. Health care issues also become a concern when these families have difficulties in providing coverage for health care costs. There is often no assistance available to relatives who are not part of the formalized system.
A number of circumstances have led to the increase in children being raised by an older generation including teen pregnancy, lack of employment or income, drug and alcohol addiction, incarceration, illness and death, noted Lawler.
"This growing phenomenon has had a significant impact on our state's economy and the lives of many of our citizens. The situation needs to be addressed," said Senator Bernest Cain, Human Resources Committee Chair. "We made some real progress today. I'm looking forward to our next meeting and working to find solutions to this crisis."