Negative Effects of Grandparents raising Children


NegativeEffects of Grandparents raising Children

Inmany developed nations in the West, grandparents take on theresponsibility of occasional care providers of their grandchildren.However, in the recent past there have been significant increase inAustralia and other Western nations in the number of children underthe care of grandparents due to the inability of the children`sparents to effectively meet their parenting duties (Backhouse, 2009).Unlike in the past, grandparents are now routinely providingfull-time care to grandchildren. This phenomenon has beenprecipitated by the changes in social conditions and family structurein the past three decades. Children under the care of grandparentsexperience higher levels of emotional and behavioral difficultiesthan children in the overall Australian population (Smith &ampPalmieri,2003). Thenegative effects of grandparents raising their grandchildren areoften devasting for not only the children, but also the adults.

Trends:Grandparents as Primary Caregivers

Theglobal trend of placing children under the care of grandparents iswell supported by statistics. In the UK, it was reported that atleast 8000 children were under the care of relative in2001(Backhouse, 2009). This was a 34% increase in the figure recordeda decade earlier, and half of these were under the care ofgrandparents. In New Zealand at least 4853 of children were in thecustody of extended family care in the same period. In Australia, thenumber of children in the care of other people other than thebiological parents rose by 40% in 1997 to 51% in 2000 (Backhouse,2009). Grandparents raising grandchildren is not a new feature. Inthe past, when families were engulfed in crisis, grandparents alwaysstepped in to take care of their grandchildren. In some culturalsetup, it is normal occurrence for grandparents to take care ofgrandchildren. Nonetheless, what is new is the apparent dramaticsurge in the number of children under the care of their grandparentsas a result of changes in social conditions and family structure.

InAustralia, there is no reliable data on the number of grandparentstaking care of children because their parents are not in a positionto give parental care to their children. The Australian Bureau ofStatistics estimates that there are at least 22,500 grandparents inAustralia who are taking care of more than 31,100 grandchildren(Backhouse, 2009). The Bureau has also estimated that majority ofsuch children are aged between 0-17. The reliability of thesestatistics has been questioned because the data on which thesestatistics were based had a relative error of 25%-50% (Backhouse,2009).

Inthe past three decades, there has been considerable increase in thenumber of grandparents raising children. Census data show that in theU.S there are more than 2.5 million grandparents raising more than 5million children (Smith &ampPalmieri, 2003). Custodial grandparenting occurs when grandparent take responsibility forgrandchildren because the parents are not in the right mentaldisposition and physical condition to do so or choose not to takecare of their children due to financial issues. Some of the mainreasons for custodial grand parenting include parental incarceration,physical and mental illness, divorce, substance abuse, HIV/AIDS,neglect and abuse, abandonment, teenage pregnancy and death (Smith&ampPalmieri, 2003).

Manyindividuals working in the community service industry have rebuffedthe statistics by the Australians Bureau of Statistics, claiming thatthere was an underestimation of the number of children under the careof grandparents. More recent research by Dr. Hammill Jan (2011) hasindicated that the number of grandmothers taking care ofgrandchildren and other responsibilities in homes such as housing,feeding, clothing, and supporting children has surged significantlyover the past two decades. Even if both of these studies do notprovide reliable data on the number of grandparents raisinggrandchildren in the Australia, many scholars concur that thisphenomenon has a profound effect on the general behavioral andemotional well being of these children (Backhouse,2009).

NegativeEffects of Grandparents Raising Children

Althoughthe number of grandparents who have become surrogate parents tograndchildren is rising, there is scant information on how custodialgrandchildren fare in such family setting. Even so, there are twomain reasons why children under the care of grandparents mayencounter increased risk of emotional and behavioral difficultiesthan children brought up in a normal family setting where the fatherand mother are the primary care givers (Smith &ampPalmieri, 2003).Some of the main reasons for custodial grand parenting includeparental incarceration, physical and mental illness, divorce,substance abuse, HIV.AIDS, neglect and abuse, abandonment, teenagepregnancy and death (Smith &ampPalmieri, 2003). Such predicamentbears numerous peril of psychopathology among custodial grandparents.Some of the most salient risks include exposure to prenatal toxins,inefficient interaction with parents, societal stigma, earlychildhood trauma, family conflict and uncertainty about the future(COTA National Seniors, 2003).

Anotherreason child under the care of grandparents may encounter increasedrisk of behavioral and emotional problems relate to the myriad ofchallenges that grandparent encounter as caregivers. To many oldpeople, the role of taking care of young and sometimes unpredictablechildren is developmentally off time, ambiguous, unplanned andcarried out with considerable ambivalence (COTA National Seniors,2003). Additional challenges to raising custodial grandchildreninclude social stigma, disrupted retirement and leisure plan,financial strain, inadequate support, age-related problems, and angertowards the parents of the grandchildren (Smith &ampPalmieri,2003).

Studieshave indicated that custodial grandparents normally exhibit elevatedrates of anger, anxiety, guilt and irritability. Such elevatedpsychological strain among care givers is worrying because manypieces of research indicate that psychological distress is linked toincreased dysfunctional parenting, that in turn, negatively affectschildren`s psychological well-being (Smith &ampPalmieri, 2003).Recently, it was established that psychological distress amonggrandparents taking care of young children results to lower qualityparenting, which ultimately leads to higher maladjustment ofcustodial grandchildren (Smith &ampPalmieri, 2003). Even with suchspeculations that children under the care of grandparent mayexperience mental health problems than children in other familysettings scant studies have examined the well-being of such childrenin comparison to other children.

Fewstudies, however, provide preliminary evidence that children underthe care of grandparents face higher risk to behavioral and emotionaldifficulties. For example, Ghuman et al. (2000) established that 22%of the 233 teenagers attending an inner-city community mental healthcenter for management of psychological troubles were under the careof grandparents. Even though this rate was found to bedisproportionately higher than the 6% of the all the children underthe care of grandparents, such a small sample in a single healthclinic cannot be used to establish the general trend.

Dubowitzet al. (2001)found similar results in a study meant to examine the risk ofbehavioral and emotional difficulties in children under kinship care.Their research found that custodial children have emotional,behavioral and school related difficulties than children under thecare of biological mother and father. The National Survey in Americahas also established custodial children fared worse than otherchildren on most parameters of physical, behavioral and emotionalwell being. Astonishingly, they also established that children underthe care of grandparent and other relatives were more likely to havecaregivers with signs of a questionable mental facility (Smith&ampPalmieri, 2003).

InAustralia, many grandparents have indicated that they feel abandonedby the state and national governments. Many of the grandparents takeresponsibility of their grandchildren upon the request of the statechildren protection authorities (Backhouse, 2009). Many haveindicated that the state government needs to give more support tohelp them care for these children, some of whom are traumatized. Inmost states, kinship and foster care support and payments servicesare restricted to children for whom a care and protection order hasbeen made. Centrelink payments and Commonwealth Family Tax Benefitsare based on grandparents’ means (Backhouse, 2009). This means thatmajority of children under the care of grandparents do not receiveadequate care as they need.

Alongitudinal study conducted in the United States by the NationalEducation in a sample of middle school children, comparingbehavioral, emotional and educational outcomes in children inhousehold with both biological parents and those in non-biologicalparents families, confirmed that Children raised away from theirbiological parents are at a higher risk of developing psychosocialproblems (Smith &ampPalmieri, 2003). According to Smith andPalmieri, non-biological parent households were found to offer a lessfavorable family atmosphere for children to live in. Smith andPalmieri (2007) have also established that the shortage of resourcesand inadequate parental functions in such households are closelyconnected to lower levels of well-being among children. Solomon andMarx (2005) used data gathered by the NHIS in the United States tocompare how custodial grandchildren compare with children in blendedfamilies and single –parents on school and health indicators.Primary caregivers were asked to state their perception of thechildren in their care. Caregivers indicated that children fromnuclear families were perceived to be better learners and less likelyto repeat a grade compared to their counterparts in the custodialcare. Children in custodial care were found to be more likely toexperience behavioral problems in school.


Asa result of their experiences with their biological parents, childrenunder the care of grandparents often exhibit physical, academic,behavioral, developmental and emotional problems. Some of thesepsychosocial difficulties include learning disabilities, depression,aggression, anxiety, and health problems. Such children may also notfeel comfortable in a setting with people who do not connect wellwith their current challenges and physical growth and may experiencefeelings of guilt, anger, and even rejection. Due to the wide age gapbetween the grandparents and the children, many children in suchfamilies may not only feel disconnected but may leave them confused,tense and hurt. The dearth of data on the well-being of childrenunder the care of grandparents means that there is no sound evidenceto support that children in such family setting are more vulnerableto emotional, educational and emotional problems. Nonetheless, thefew studies conducted by scholars has shown that children raised bygrandparents have a poorer score on parameters relating to emotion,behavioral well-being than those in other family set ups.


Backhouse,J. (2009). Grandparentsraising their grandchildren: impact of the transition from atraditional grandparent role to a grandparent-as-parent role.Southern Cross Universities. Retrieved from

COTANational Seniors. (2003). GrandparentsRaising Grandchildren.Retrieved from

Smith,G.C, and Palmieri, A. P. (2003). Risk of Psychological DifficultiesAmong Children Raised by Custodial Grandparents. Journalof Psychiatr Serv. 58(10): 1303–1310.