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Support missing when grandparents find themselves parenting again



Rachel Dunifon

"Grandparents increasingly play a key role in the lives of their grandchildren, as our recent study of U.S. families shows. But some of the most vulnerable in this group are failing to receive the childrearing support that other similarly at-risk families receive," begins a recent post by Rachel Dunifon on the Child and Family Blog. Dunifon, director of The Role of Grandparents in the Lives of Adolescent Grandchildren project in the BCTR, goes on to explain that the past decade has seen a 30 percent increase in the proportion of children who live with both their parents and grandparents. This trend indicates that the social services that support the elderly are, more and more, also assisting children, a fact that should affect policy.

Families where a grandparent or grandparents raise children alone without a parent present are often called "grandfamilies." Dunifon notes that these types of families are often overlooked by policymakers, and left out of aid programs, but not due to a lack of need:

U.S. grandfamilies are, on average, economically disadvantaged. Nearly a third live below the federal poverty line, and almost another third have incomes less than 200 per cent of the poverty level., Grandparents in such families are less likely than parents in other family structures to be employed and are less likely to be married. We see strikingly high levels of health problems in these families – not only in the grandparents but often in the mental health of the children, likely reflecting the misfortune they have often experienced in their lives.

The blog post was also reported by Desert News in an article including personal stories of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Both source the study Grandparent Coresidence and Family Well-Being: Implications for Research and Policy (Dunifon, Ziol-Guest, and Kopko) published in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science in July 2014.


Grandparent Coresidence and Family Well-Being: Implications for Research and Policy - The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science

Grandparents raising children alone miss vital family benefits and supports - Child and Family Blog

The problems grandparents face when parenthood starts all over again - Desert News


New article: “Grandparent Coresidence and Family Well-Being”


Rachel Dunifon and Kimberly Kopko

Rachel Dunifon and Kimberly Kopko

The BCTR's Rachel Dunifon and Kimberly Kopko (with Kathleen Ziol-Guest) authored a new article that looks at the effects of grandparents living with families. Grandparent Coresidence and Family Well-Being was published in The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science this summer.

U.S. children today have increasingly diverse living arrangements. In 2012, 10 percent of children lived with at least one grandparent; 8 percent lived in three-generational households, consisting of a parent and a grandparent; while 2 percent lived with a grandparent and no parent in the household. This article reviews the literature on grandparent coresidence and presents new research on children coresiding with grandparents in modern families. Findings suggest that grandparent coresidence is quite common and that its prevalence increased during the Great Recession. Additionally, these living arrangements are diverse themselves, varying by the marital status of the parent, the home in which the family lives, and the economic well-being of the family. Suggestions for future research are also proposed.

Grandparent Coresidence and Family Well-Being


Community input in the formation of Rachel Dunifon’s Role of Grandparents study


Rachel Dunifon’s research program, The Role of Grandparents in the Lives of Adolescent Grandchildren, would not have come about if it weren’t for the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Educators with whom she works in her parenting program. They are the ones who made Dr. Dunifon aware of the prevalence of grandparent-headed households, who told compelling stories about the families in their communities who are in this situation, and who made her realize what a rich area this would be for research. Based on the knowledge Dunifon gained from the field, she embarked on a multi-year research project, funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, on grandparents raising grandchildren. Dunifon worked with CCE and other community educators to develop the research questions, to bring together focus groups to increase her knowledge of the issues facing such families, to pilot test study instruments, and to recruit participants in the study. The interviews took place in CCE offices throughout the state. The cycle is ongoing as Dunifon is producing a series of fact sheets based on the results of her research, which can be used by educators in their work with families in which grandparents are raising grandchildren.

Receiving input from practitioners and community members to inform research is a crucial step in practicing translational research to insure the studies done are relevant in community settings. As shown by this example, connecting with community educators can raise awareness among researchers about important and relevant issues. The resulting research is then easily translated back into resources useful to the community, as it was developed based on community input from the start.

The fact sheets from this research can be found on this page.