By Janet Goetze
For the Hollywood Star News
Nearly 3,000 grandparents in Portland – and nearly 25,000 in the state – are raising their grandchildren, altering the lives of the caretakers as well as the children.
The situation can be isolating for grandparents and the thousands of other relatives who step in to raise children. When their friends are going out to lunch or taking trips, these relatives are doing laundry and helping with homework.
However, information, support groups and other forms of assistance are available for relatives, ages 55 and older, who need help navigating their new lives, said Loriann McNeill, coordinator of the family caregivers support program offered through Multnomah County Aging, Disability & Veterans Services.
An important service she’s found, said Deborah Hughes, a grandmother raising three grandchildren, is a monthly peer support group. It meets at 10 a.m. on the first Monday of each month at the Charles Jordan Community Center, 9000 N. Foss Ave. A similar group meets in Southeast Portland, McNeill said.
Hughes also attended an annual gathering arranged by McNeill, which often draws people from other parts of the state who seek information about services for “grandfamilies,” the term used by many agencies working in this area.
The 10th annual Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Retreat will be 9 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Friday, May 13, at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, 11560 S.E. Market St. Those seeking information or registration may call McNeill at (503) 988-8210.
Hughes said the local support group helps her outlook.
“I felt a little guilt that my family isn’t the normal construct of mother, father and two kids,” she said. “I found I was not alone.”
Because of her daughter’s health issues, Hughes has been caring for grandchildren, now 20, 17 and 12, since 2010.
The support group, Hughes said, “gave me confidence and gave me information so I could be my own advocate.” The group also gave her insight into behavior that had taxed her patience. A child living without parents may need to heal psychologically because, she said, “He has lost a sense of security, even though he’s within the family.”
The assistance offered through McNeill’s county office is funded by a federal Older Americans Act program. This requires that grandparents and other relatives be at least 55 years old and raising related children age 18 and younger, McNeill said. However, other programs, listed in the adjoining box, may assist other caregivers.
The Hollywood Senior Center, the Urban League and other senior centers in Multnomah County offer case management services to connect grandparents with community resources to address their specific needs, McNeill said. These may include prescription aid for grandparents, after-school or summer programs for the children, and activities that help caregivers relieve stress and maintain health. These could include swim passes and classes at Portland Parks and Recreation centers.
Hughes praised the case management services she has received.
“They try to fit what you need as an individual,” she said, “It’s not done in a cookie-cutter fashion.”
Her grandchildren qualified for free TriMet passes to attend summer recreational and educational programs.
“I can’t tell you how much that saved us in the summers when they wanted to go to special camps,” Hughes said. “Of course, all these have fees associated with them, so if you can get the transportation, that really helps.”
When her family’s stove quit working, she didn’t have money for a new one. However, she qualified for a stipend from the Urban League to replace the appliance, she said.
Hughes cares for her grandchildren as a family decision, but some members of her support group are state-appointed guardians for grandchildren. Each situation has pluses and minuses, she said. Some guardians are upset with the way their state social workers monitor them, Hughes said. On the other hand, she didn’t have anyone linking her to resources until she learned about them on her own, she said.
Based on figures from the 2010 Census, about eight percent of Oregon’s children, or 69,120 of those under 18, are being raised by relatives other than their parents, according to “GrandFacts.” These are statistics compiled by partners working in cross-generational programs.
“Lots of people are raising their grandchildren,” Hughes said. “I think the story has been blunted because so many are doing this. Now it’s become part of our norm and it doesn’t get the attention it needs to have.”
Information about programs that provide support for “grandfamilies” is available from a variety of sources. Here are some:
Lorianne McNeill, coordinator of the Multnomah County Family Caregiver Support Program through the Multnomah County Aging, Disability & Veterans Services. Helpline: (503) 988-3646. Direct line: (503) 988-8210. email@example.com.
Family Caregiver Support Program – Area Agency on Aging, for relatives 55+ with child related by blood, marriage or adoption. www.oregon.gov/DHS/spwpd/offices.shtml.
Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center offers counseling referrals, assistance in starting support groups, training, resource library, newsletter and helpline. Kelley DeLany, program manager, (503) 241-0799 or gro.e1511401723cruos1511401723erwn@1511401723crapr1511401723o1511401723. Web: www.orparc.org.
Relatives as Parents Program Support Group offers a support group during the school year, information and referral. Marcy Haun, (503) 806-2878, ten.t1511401723sacmo1511401723c@mnu1511401723ah1511401723.
Swindells Center – Providence Child Center offers information, training resources, lending library, parenting classes, speakers and child life care notebooks. (503) 215-2499, gro.e1511401723cnedi1511401723vorp@1511401723slled1511401723niws1511401723.
“Grandfacts” are developed in a partnership of AARP, The Brookdale Foundation Group, Casey Family Programs, Child Welfare League of America, Children’s Defense Fund and Generations United.