School re-openings give ‘grandfamilies’ major difficulties

Local News

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Marsha Kight is in her late 50s. She lives in a neighborhood off Gettysburg Avenue, where she has raised her 14-year-old granddaughter since she was 10-months-old. She’s one of the 2.7 million grandparents that are raising a grandchild in the United States.

“Her mother wasn’t able to take care of her,” Kight told WDTN.com. “I took on the responsibility of caring for her. I would rather have her be with family than out in the world.”

Kight’s granddaughter attends Dayton Public Schools, where she attends one of the IMAGINE campuses and is under an Individual Evaluation Plan because of a learning disability. She’ll be taking classes from there, but not at the school, from home.

People at the age of 60 and over have been told to take extra caution during the COVID-19 outbreak because they are at greater risk of severe illness if they contract the virus. Kight is closing in on 60 years of age, so sending her granddaughter back to school wasn’t an option.

“I’m still at that age,” Kight said. “And kids are germ magnets. They may not always be sick, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have (COVID-19) or something else. Every year in the fall, when they go back to school, they start getting the sniffles after a few weeks. But with the pandemic, people are dying from it.”

Having her granddaughter take the remote option is something Kight has available to her. She has the internet in her home, her job at Miami Valley Community Action Partnership allows her to work remotely, and her granddaughter has access to another computer. Kight has experience with computers going back to the 1980s when she worked at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. But for many grandparents, this isn’t the case and these are all major issues they have to overcome.

No easy answers for ‘grandfamilies’

Jaia Peterson is the Deputy Executive Director for Generations United, a group based in Washington D.C. that represents grandfamilies – situations where grandparents are raising their grandkids.

Peterson said with people over the age of 60 having more naturally compromised immune systems, they can’t isolate or quarantine like others their age without grandchildren.

“Under normal circumstances, (grandparents raising grandchildren) present significant challenges,” Peterson said. “Many of these children come into grandfamilies after being exposed to trauma. They often have a number of behavior or mental health challenges.”

Peterson said many grandparents don’t have internet access, don’t own computers and aren’t technologically savvy. She said the tech issues with remote learning go beyond schools giving children Chromebooks to take home, many of their classes require accessing multiple websites and programs. This can be daunting for grandparents and kids.

“Many times they stepped into this role unexpectedly,” Peterson said. “They are juggling a lot of things. Making sure there’s someone that’s ready to step in for that child hasn’t always been at the top of their list. During COVID-19 it needs to be at the top of their planning.”

Schools also provide a range of support for their students. When much of the country was shut down due to outbreak in the spring, this meant parents, in general, were at a loss in finding replacements for services they could get their children from the schools. For grandparents, this is a larger problem because many of them are on fixed incomes.

“When schools were meeting, we had one grandparent say their child had occupational therapy, tutoring and a host of support from academic to others,” Peterson said. “Then COVID-19 hit, all those came down to grandma. She had to be everything for them and she was still working full-time. She was older and had her own health needs. It was a huge range of challenges these families were facing.”

Peterson said grandparents have been diving into their retirement savings to make up the lost benefits their grandchildren were receiving at school. She said the losses that hit grandparents also hit society at large because of the benefits they provide the children and the costs it saves the government by keeping the children out of the foster care system.

“They actually save taxpayers $4 billion each year,” Peterson said. “Children do better in the care of relatives than non-relatives. Keeping kids out of foster care is an important role. They have better behavior and mental health outcomes, they will stay connected to siblings.

Single parents struggling across the board

Kight said working from home while trying to help her daughter with school is still exhausting. While she’s thankful to have the job and resources she has, it’s harder than a typical day of going to work and her daughter going to school. But she also knows she’s fortunate. She knows one parent of an 8-year-old who recently quit her job so she could take care of him at home.

“That’s the biggest dilemma,” Kight said. “How do you balance that? I’m having a hard enough time. But I know a young lady who said she couldn’t do it, she said I can’t leave my son at home and I don’t blame her.”

Peterson said these challenges are more troubling for grandfamilies. She recommended grandparents raising grandkids in Ohio get in touch with Kinship Navigator programs she said were becoming more available across the state.

For more information on help available for grandparents raising grandchildren, visit the Generations United website.

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