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Doing it all over again: grandparent led families in Western North Carolina

Happy man talking with cute boy standing at home

ASHEVILLE -- Many grandparents are the primary caregivers of their grandchildren. There were more than 5.8 million grandparent-led families in the United States at the time of the 2010 U.S. Census, with figures expected to have risen since then.

Often unexpectedly, they find themselves in a second round of child rearing. We should all acknowledge and appreciate the care and service they provide to their families and society every single day.

Ann Whisenhunt, Family Caregiver Associate with the Land of Sky Area Agency on Aging (AAA), says that, as of 2018, there were approximately 2,000 grandparent-led families in Buncombe, Madison, Henderson, and Transylvania counties.

Whisenhunt also has a part-time position within the Family Caregiver Support Program, where she helps provide direct financial assistance through federal CARES Act funding. She also helps maintain a directory of local resources available for those providing kinship care. The Family Caregiver Support Program is able to allocate funds to those over 55 who are serving as primary caregivers for a child or children they are related to. Most of the grant recipients are grandparents.

"As children have been enrolled in virtual schooling this past year, the most frequent request has been for assistance with internet expenses," Whisenhunt explains.

"Virtual learning has been a universal challenge brought on by the pandemic, but has a bigger financial burden in our rural communities, where satellite internet is the only option. Many of our grant recipients have internet bills of over $200 a month and they need our help," she added.

A grandparent often becomes the primary caregiver informally, so they don’t receive funding through Department of Social Services or other agencies. Jamie Gilmore, Assistant Director with Creating a Family, said, “Grandparent-led families tend to fall through the social service cracks.”

This is a unique population with specific issues on both ends of the lifespan. Grandparents who take on this responsibility will certainly have a great increase in household expenses, often at a time when their income is decreasing. Then there’s the emotional work of raising children, many of whom will have additional psychological needs of their own, resulting from an insecure bond with their birth parents," she explained.

Creating a Family just launched a new program which provides resource kits for grandparent-led families in Transylvania County and hopes to expand to other counties in Western North Carolina.

Gilmore says, “Grandparents are generally not involved with school and other child-centered services before their grandkids move in. They have not previously needed many of the financial, legal, medical, and educational services that are available. Now with kids in the house, they find themselves navigating a whole new world of information. The resource kits provide that support and information.

Most importantly she added, “reach out and offer to bring these grandparents a meal or schedule a playdate with the kids. They are doing the amazing and often-times overwhelming job of parenting a child for the second time around.”

Resources for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

The Guide for GrandFamilies can help you find your way with tips, tools and resources to the services and support you need to take care of yourself and your family.

Creating a Family also provides online resources

Land of Sky Area Agency on Aging -- serving Buncombe, Madison, Henderson, or Transylvania counties: or call (828) 251-7441.

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