Caring for Your Grandchildren or A Brother’s or Sister’s Children – Help is Available

Imagine this.

It’s February. You are a 62 year-old grandma or grandpa. You have been asked to watch your 7 year old grandson and 8 year old granddaughter on a Saturday night.

After enjoying the night out with friends, your daughter and son-in-law were driving home about 1 am. Their home is at the top of a hill. About half way up the hill there is a big curve in the road.

There were some snow showers earlier that evening. However, it stopped and now the road was just wet. At least, that’s the way it seemed.

They didn’t know it but there was black ice on the curve. When they started into the curve, they were going 35 miles an hour. The car started to slide.

Your son-in-law tried to stop the slide. However, he overcorrected. Suddenly the car was sliding in the opposite direction. It went off the road, slammed into a big oak tree and rolled over.

Although both he and your daughter had their seat belts on, the force of the crash was so great it tore the seal belts off. They both ended up flying through the windshield and dying instantaneously.

At 3 am, there’s a loud knock on your door. You get up to find 2 police officers standing outside. One of them tells you what happened.

You Can’t Believe What He’s Telling You. This Has to be a Dream. It Has to be a Mistake.

Your daughter and her husband have to be ok.

As time passes, the reality of the accident starts to sink in. You suddenly realize someone is going to have to tell your grandchildren what has happened. Then you realize . . .

. . . It Has to be You

Over the next few days, you and your grandchildren are really shaken. Many times, you all cry uncontrollably. A week later there is a funeral for your daughter and son-in-law. Reality starts to sink in.

You had always pictured how you would watch your grandchildren grow throughout their childhood, preteen and teen years, how their mom and dad would raise them and how happy all of you would be.

That Dream Is Shattered

Now that’s not going to happen. Questions run through your mind.

Who is going to raise your grandkids?

Who is going to be a mom and dad for them?

Who is going to be there for them at the main events in their lives – high school graduation, college, their weddings and the birth of their children?

You suddenly realize your son-in-law was an only child too. His parents live in another state. Both are disabled and can’t care for 2 children.

There Is Only One Person Who Can Step Up and Care for These Two Precious Children.

There is only one problem. It has been over 30 years since you cared for children this small. Life has changed totally.

How will you do it? Are you financially able to care for them? Is there anyone who can help you?

All too frequently many your age are placed in this predicament. It’s not only due to a car accident. There are many other instances where grandparents have to step in and raise their grandchildren. Here are a few:

• Parents misuse drugs, are in jail or have a mental illness.
• Parents just take off and abandon their children.
• Parents are unable to care for them due to financial hardship

When a grandparent or grandparents have to take on the role of parenting their grandchildren, their lives change. They have to face things which they never expected:

• Situations arise daily where they have no idea of what to say or how to respond.

• They may have only had enough money to live on themselves. They now have the additional expenses of housing, providing food and clothing for their grandchildren and their healthcare.

• Stress starts to overwhelm them. Kids are grieving the loss of their parents. They also don’t like the new rules placed on them or the chores they have to do. Arguments occur.

• They suddenly find themselves isolated. They have to spend all of the time caring for their grandkids. They have little time for themselves. They also can’t spend time with or go out with their own friends.

It’s overwhelming. They also have no idea of what they will have to do nor what they will have to do first.

This Is Not Something New

At various times throughout history, grandparents have had to step up and take on the responsibility of raising their grandchild or grandchildren. Currently there are about 5,000 grandparents providing care for these children in Knox County.

Way back in 2000 the Office on Aging of the Knoxville Knox County Community Action Committee realized something had to be done to help grandparents who suddenly had to become responsible for raising their grandchildren. That led to the creation of the Grandparents as Parents program.

Over the years since 2000, the program has expanded quite a bit. Originally it was for grandparents. Shortly afterwards, they realized other relatives beside grandparents might be caring for these children.

The program was expanded to include them. It now helps both grandparents and relative caregivers with the unique needs they have when they are raising these children.

Currently there are 604 people on the mailing list of the Grand Parents as Parents program.

The people working in the Grandparents as Parents program help them with the information, support and resources they need to raise these children.

One main focus of the program is to keep these children in the homes of grandparents or relative caregivers. The don’t want to see then placed in foster homes.

When children are placed with a grandparent or relative caregiver, there are a variety of needs that have to be met. The people working in the Grandparents as Parents Program help with these. Here are the most common ones:

  • The grandparent or relative caregiver has to be granted custody of the child or children or have power of attorney for them. This enables them to handle their affairs. At times this may require the help of an attorney.
  • Grandparents or relative caregivers need to have all of the documents and information about each child. This includes their birth certificate, Social Security number, Insurance information, immunization records, health history and school records.
  • Grandparents or relative caregivers might not have the income or savings to provide for the food, clothing and other items each child needs. The children or family may quality for SNAP, WIC or TANF-Child Only benefits.
  • If the parent or parents are alive but they are unable to care for the children, they may be required to make child support payments. Frequently an order is necessary for this.
  • Disabled children may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits if they aren’t already receiving them.
  • At times legal aid is necessary. The grandparents or relative caregivers need help finding an attorney.
  • In some instances, grandparents or relative caregivers do not have the room in their residence for themselves and these children. A bigger home or apartment is required. If they don’t have the income to pay for this, they may have to move into public housing.
  • Frequently these children can’t be added to the grandparents’ or relative caregivers’ health insurance plans. In those cases, they may be eligible for Tenncare.
  • Many grandparents are not up-to-date on modern technology. They may have smart phones but only use these to make calls. They have a computer but never have used it for anything besides Facebook. They are at a loss when their grandchildren ask for help with these.
  • Periodically grandparents or relative caregivers need a break from caring for their grandchildren. At those times, they can get childcare to allow them to get out and socialize with friends or do something else they want to.

Grandparents or relative caregivers don’t have to worry about any of these things. They can call those working in the Grandparents as Parents program to get information for just about any need they have.

A Support Group Meets Twice Each Month

Another benefit the Grandparents as Parents Program offers is a support group for grandparents and relative care givers. This group has a monthly conference call for all caregivers on the second Tuesday of the month. There is also an in-person meeting at the LT Ross building on the fourth Tuesday of each month.

Normally a guest speaker talks about a topic of interest to the participants on the conference call and at the in-person meeting.

At these meetings the participants also have the opportunity to talk to each other, share problems they are having and get advice for others who have had the problem in the past.

The Grandparents As Parents Guidebook

The Office on Aging has put together a guidebook for Grandparents as Parents. This book has quite a bit of useful information to help grandparents and relative caregivers take care of the children in their custody.

You can access this guidebook online by clicking here. You can also pick up a copy at the John T O’Connor Senior Center or the other senior centers in Knox County.

It’s a Tough Job Raising a Grandchild or the Child of One of Your Relatives.

When it first happens, your life is turned upside down. The Grandparents as Parents program is designed to help make this easier for you each step along the way — from the time you take on this role until the child or children grow up and go out on their own.

If you have had to take on this role and you haven’t contacted the people working in the Grandparents as Parents program, please call Tracy Van De Vate at the Office on Aging. Tracy and her staff will help you. The phone number is 865-524-2786

If you know of someone providing care for one of these children and they are trying to do it on their own, encourage them to read this blog post and to call Tracy.


If you have any comments on what you have read in this post, I would love to know them. Please email them to me. Also – if you have any ideas about subjects you would like to see discussed in future posts, please send me an email and let me know. My email address is