The main role of a family is to bring up children despite their conditions; whether they are challenged or not. Most families diligently take up their parental roles. However, there has been a sharp rise in grandparents acting as caregivers for their grandchildren. The recent increase in single parenthood and infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS has led to a sharp increase in grandparenting. Grandparents chip in to help their children in balancing between work and parental responsibilities. However, grandchildren who are disabled pose a serious challenge to their caregivers. They not only need frequent medical attention but also special needs like education, housing, and food. Additionally, society’s negligence on children with disabilities has led to an increase in their number.
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Parents might cause disability in their children either before or after birth. Drug abuse and parental negligence or abandonment is the main cause of disabilities. Sadly, there are frequent occurrences of disabilities in poor families due to either genetic problems or other calamities. The common health challenges affecting children include cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy and other physical disabilities like polio (Force, Botsford, Pisano, & Holbert, 2000, p.9).
However, due to poverty, single parenthood, parents’ disability and epidemics like HIV/AIDS, grandparents end up with the role of parenting. HIV/AIDS is a world epidemic that is currently wiping out the young generation. Consequently, there is an increase in the number of orphans and grandparents take over parenting responsibility. The recent increase in divorce, unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies, and separation has led to single parents who are unable to balance between parenting roles and their career; therefore, grandparents decide to act as caregivers. Sometimes, grandparents take care of their grandchildren to prevent them from going into children’s homes or being brought up by foster parents.
Currently, there is limited financial aid put in place to support grandparents with disabled grandchildren. Additionally, statistical analyses of the population do not consider grandparenting, single parenthood, and children with disabilities. Therefore, medical attention to children with disabilities is low hence the high rise in disabled children. There has been a “sharp increase in children living with grandparents from 3.2% to 5.6% in 1997” (Heller & Ganguly, 2008, p.5). In 1998, the US Bureau of statistics recorded an upward trend in grandparents taking care of their grandchildren, however, this is regardless of whether the biological parents are alive or not. On the other hand, more than 70% of the grandparents are women while slightly above 50% of them are married.
Grandparents who take care of their grandchildren face many challenges. They find it difficult to provide basic needs like shelter, food, and education. Also, they lack support from the community services for their disabled grandchildren. Due to poor contact and inaccessibility of social service agencies, grandparents caring for children with disabilities are unable to meet their special needs. Housing is one of the common challenges; children with physical disabilities need special houses to suit their special needs. They also lack knowledge about community-based agencies for the disabled hence do not bother to access them.
When the grandparents’ age out or die, their grandchildren’s future hangs in balance and chances of them plunging into abject poverty are high. Moreover, poverty usually prevails in grandparents who are caregivers. Most of their savings and income end up meeting the basic needs of the disabled children. Unfortunately, some grandparents leave office or jobs to concentrate on parenting. However, the consequence is the lack of finance and privacy for themselves. Additionally, physically or mentally challenged children demand many basic needs like food, clothes, medical attention and houses with special facilities. Therefore, they end up using a lot of money for the upkeep of their grandchildren.
Social and cultural differences pose a major challenge for grandparents. Due to the age difference, grandparents undergo hard times when instilling discipline in their grandchildren. This becomes a challenge at the adolescent stage where an aging grandparent may lack the proper knowledge to counsel his/her grandchildren in an ever-changing environment. Unfortunately, the grandchildren with disabilities are difficult to handle at this stage because most of them have low self-esteem and statistics indicate that some may even attempt to commit suicide because they are unable to fit in the society.
The long-term impact of grandparenting is stress and depression that comes in handy with the development of chronic diseases pushing the grandparents into leading miserable life and the eventual death. The duty of administering discipline to disabled children becomes very strenuous and sometimes may strain the relationship between them and their grandparents. Lack of leisure time for recreational activities also contributes to their depression. Grandparents who live in poverty have frequent worries about the future of their grandchildren especially those with body impairments and this phenomenon leads to stress.
In the case of their absence, these grandparents worry about the well-being of their disabled grandchildren and the influence they have on other children. The circumstances that herald grandparenting like the death of the grandchildren’s parents may culminate into sorrow and grief hence depression (American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 2008). Unfortunately, in most cases the grandchildren happen to be below five years of age; actually, some are even infants demanding a lot of attention from their caregivers.
Social isolation is also among the challenges grandparents who have disabled children face (AARP, 2008). There is discrimination from neighborhoods, schools, and other social institutions to children with disabilities. Society, therefore, disrupts the way of life for both the grandparent and the disabled grandchildren. Some grandparents even end up losing their jobs and self-esteem due to isolation. Eventually, some grandparents do not declare the physical or mental disabilities of their grandchildren and due to all these frustrations; these caregivers do not access public services and systems hence isolation. Similarly, disabled children face discrimination and physical abuse from their peers. Therefore, grandparents are unable to delegate duties to other people to take care of their grandchildren.
Other countries have enacted strict laws concerning parental and guardian responsibilities. The common challenge grandparents’ face is to provide legal papers as guardians because the common reasons for grandparenting are the death of the parents or drug abuse and this scenario denies their disabled children to access vital institutions. For instance, there is poor school enrollment for disabled children despite the availability of special schools. On the other hand, due to financial constrains grandparents are unable to transfer their grandchildren to schools located far away or even afford the school fees.
They finally, end up with illiterate and disabled grandchildren. Nevertheless, the taking up of parenting roles by grandparents acts as a role model in the community. Their grandchildren usually follow their steps as they grow up. Besides the challenges, they enact good morals in their grandchildren whether disabled or not. Some grandparents are always happy to stay with their grandchildren and cater to their needs hence they do not see it as a burden but rather a blessing. Although the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, most grandparents accept parenting roles to strengthen their families’ names.
Finally, the community and government should step up the campaign to help grandparents who have grandchildren with disabilities. There should be sufficient information concerning the basic needs, source of income and medical attention on disabled grandchildren and their parenting grandparents. The government should also contact and connect such ‘parents’ and ‘children’ to the nearest community services that would be of great help.
Additionally, the establishment of financial aid is necessary to channel funds to grandparents who spend more than what they earn. When grandparents die or become too old, the community social services should be ready to take up parental responsibilities. Both social and healthcare workers should undergo training to cater for the increasing number of grandparent families. Parents and grandparents with mentally retarded children should undergo training on how to meet their special needs.
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In conclusion, the current society is full of families headed with grandparents. There is a sharp rise of parents who are either addicts or alcoholics and in most cases; these parents neglect their responsibilities especially when the children are disabled. Additionally, the decline of social morals has led to high divorce and separation cases hence single parents.
Similarly, teen pregnancies are on the rise, which leads to the children abandonment. Therefore, all these parental responsibilities fall on grandparents who take care of their grandchildren. However, these grandparents face several challenges especially when the children in the spot are disabled. Such grandparents face financial hardships and are unable to meet the basic needs of their grandchildren. Additionally, they lack social and community services due to discrimination; however, the community has to assist these grandparents to attain their goals.
AARP. (2008). Who Is Raising the World’s Children? Grandparent Caregivers: Economic, Social and Legal Implications. Web.
Force, L. et al. (2000). Grandparents raining children with and without a developmental Disability: Preliminary comparisons. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 33, 5-22.
Heller, T., & Ganguly, H. (2008). Grandparents raising grandchildren with developmental disabilities. Web.