The concept of family has evolved in recent years, and one particular family dynamic is rapidly increasing. Grandparents are continuously stepping into the role of parent by becoming fulltime caregivers to their grandchildren, and West Virginia is among the most impacted states. According to U.S. Census data, West Virginia ranks fourth in the nation for grandparents raising one or more of their grandchildren.
To help meet the growing needs of this population, West Virginia State University (WVSU) launched Healthy Grandfamilies, a series of free informational sessions and resources, including follow-up support with a licensed social worker. The project seeks to help ease the transition many grandparents face as they once again become a parent, often to very young children and with issues that didn’t exist when they first were raising children.
Topics in the discussion sessions range from how to address social media to navigating the school system.
“Most of the issues dealt with in our sessions, I have been a part of firsthand,” said WVSU Extension Specialist Bonnie Dunn, who leads the sessions. Dunn herself is the product of a grandfamily, an experience she draws upon to connect with participants. “Social media wasn’t an issue back in the 50s and 60s, but everything else – stress, finances, legal issues, healthy living – it’s all timeless.”
In addition to the discussion sessions, which also focus on such topics as communication, technology, nutrition and stress management, participants are provided three months of free follow-up services with a licensed social worker that include assistance with locating community resources, confidential help in meeting family needs and advocacy services.
The program is also proving to be a haven for emotional support. Dunn quickly discovered that participants are overwhelmingly raising grandchildren because of a substance abuse issue with the biological parent. While providing such information isn’t a requirement, it is coming to light anyway – along with the guilt associated with it.
“It became very obvious that many of these grandparents feel like they have failed – that their children wouldn’t be in the situation they are in if they had been better parents,” Dunn said. “That simply isn’t true, but it’s an issue we try and help them work through as best we can.”
To date, the program has reached approximately 80 grandparents raising more than 150 grandchildren – and counting. After a strong launch in Kanawha County, W.Va., the program has expanded into two additional counties, with hopes of graduating 100 participants by the end of 2017. Plans are underway to expand into three more counties in 2018.
To learn more, visit www.HealthyGrandfamilies.com.
Healthy Grandfamilies is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Capacity Building Grants Program, Award No. 2015-38821-24374.