WMU offers support to grandparents raising grandchildren

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Photo of grandparents with grandchildren.

National Research Center for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University and Georgia State University are collaborating partners in a new center that focuses on informing professionals, decision makers and the general public about the unique challenges, needs and strengths experienced by many custodial grandparent families.

During its Dec. 8 meeting, WMU Board of Trustees approved the creation of the center, which will be housed in the College of Education and Human Development. Directors include Dr. Andrea Smith, WMU professor of Teaching, Learning and Educational Studies; Dr. Linda Dannison, chair of the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at WMU; and Dr. Deborah Whitley, associate professor in the Department of Social Work at GSU.

Originally established by GSU in 2001, the National Research Center for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren promotes best practices in the kinship care field by linking researchers and field-based professionals. WMU has been working with Georgia State since the inception of a center there, but the initiative will now become a collaboration between the two schools. Georgia State will continue to work with WMU on related research.

Approximately 6.5 million children live in homes maintained by grandparents and relatives other than parents, and this number is increasing each year. Grandparent-headed families exist for numerous reasons, including parental substance abuse, mental or physical illness, unemployment, military deployment, child abuse, neglect or abandonment, adolescent pregnancy, divorce and parental death.

"Children in the care of grandparents often experience different life circumstances than children living in parent-maintained homes," says Dannison. "Grandparents face unique challenges when they assume a parental role for a child or children whose parent is unable to provide daily care."

More than half of all children living in grandparent-headed homes are under the age of 6 years.

"Young children living in kinship care homes often face developmental challenges related to cognitive, physical or emotional delays," says Smith. "Providing services to both grandparents and grandchildren can be very beneficial and can assist young children in developing skills that will help them be more successful when they enter formal school programs."

The partnership between WMU and GSU is a logical collaboration that will combine strengths inherent in programs developed by each university, adds Smith. GSU's Project Healthy Grandparents has focused on physical and mental health of grandparent care providers. WMU's Second Time Around program has a strong footing in curriculum development and assessment, and has developed resources to serve custodial grandparents, the children in their care, and professionals working with these family members.

For more information, visit the center's new website at wmich.edu/grandparenting.