Support for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
A growing number of grandparents are taking on an unexpected new challenge in their later years: raising their grandchildren. Grandparents are often raising their grandchildren after tragic circumstances, such as the death or incarceration of their children. With more responsibility, grandparents also have more financial burdens. They can find financial help and support as they are raising their grandkids.
Financial Challenges of Grandparent Guardianship
Grandparents are likely to encounter many financial challenges when raising grandchildren. Especially for grandparents who do not have a significant disposable income, supporting others can be costly. Many older adults already live on a fixed income of Social Security checks and pensions. Others have limited retirement savings or get by on a lower income.
Some older adults may not be actively driving due to health-related concerns to take their grandchildren to school or other places, while some need to change their auto insurance policy to help save some money.
Government Assistance Programs
Many resources can help grandparents who are raising their grandkids. Several federal, state and local programs provide financial assistance, insurance or benefits.
- Medicare: Medicare is a health insurance program for seniors who are 65 and older. For those who qualify, it can lower medical costs.
- Medicaid: Medicaid provides health coverage to over 72.5 million Americans. Low-income families, qualified pregnant women and children, and individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) qualify to participate.
- Social Security Survivor Benefits: A grandparent who is raising a grandchild after their own child is deceased may be able to collect social security survivor benefits. A grandchild may receive benefits if they’re 16 or younger.
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): Social Security Disability Insurance provides financial assistance to disabled grandparents raising grandchildren. You can apply through the U.S. Social Security Administration.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program provides families with financial assistance and related support services. Programs may help with childcare and work.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): SNAP is a federal program that enables low-income families to buy food for the month.
- Women, Infants and Children (WIC): WIC helps women, children and infants to secure food. Applicants must be income-eligible.
- Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program: Housing assistance enables participants to find housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments. Low-income grandparents raising grandchildren qualify.
- Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP): Working grandparents who need help with childcare can apply for this program through their local Department of Human Services office. The program offers equal access to school services.
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): Grandparents who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid can enter into CHIP. The health insurance program provides low-cost health coverage, and in some states, covers pregnant women.
- Guardianship Subsidies: Subsidies can help grandparents with grandchildren who exit the child welfare system. Programs are available in 35 states and the District of Columbia.
- Kinship Foster Care: Kinship foster care is an out-of-home arrangement that enables relatives like grandparents to care for their grandchildren.
Local government offices can provide more information about services. Housing assistance programs can help grandparents find and afford stable housing, while utility assistance programs, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), can help low-income households with heating and cooling costs, bill payments and energy-related home repairs.
Where to Find Help
Click or tap on the states in the interactive map below to find local support organizations and programs, food assistance and health-related assistance services. You can also use the arrows to locate your state.
There are many other sources of assistance for grandparents who are raising grandchildren. If grandparents are homeowners, they can apply for state property tax assistance. The Lifeline program offers discounts for the monthly cost of phone and internet. A state’s Department of Aging can also provide information about available services.
Caregiver Assistance and Support Groups
Caregiver assistance can help grandparents who are raising grandchildren. Non-parent caregiver grants are also offered in some states. Children are eligible regardless of the income of the adult non-parent caregivers.
Support groups can also help with connecting and learning from others with the same experience. Local places of worship and schools may have weekly food giveaways or other programs to assist grandparents. Charities may give help to seniors raising grandchildren. Grandparents can also find online groups such as GardenWeb to connect with others. Below are a few more support goups.
- Dailystrength.org: This online group offers support for grandparents who are raising grandchildren.
- Grandparents and Kin: Grandparents and Kin is a support group for grandparents who are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren in Georgia.
- Grandparentingblog.com: With posts from experts, the Grandparenting blog offers support for grandparents caring for their grandchildren.
Food Banks and Advocacy Organizations
Food banks assist with nutrition. Many local food centers offer free nutritious meals to assist low-income families and anyone in need. Many offer food on specific days, so grandparents may have to call beforehand to know when to visit.
Tax Benefits and Assistance
In addition to financial resources, tax benefits can help grandparents who are raising grandchildren. Many credits are particularly beneficial for grandparents in low-income situations.
Can You Claim Your Grandchild on Your Taxes?
Grandparents can claim grandchildren on their taxes but must meet some requirements first. For starters, grandparents must determine if they can claim their grandchildren as dependents. Below are some additional rules:
- The grandparent’s grandchild must be the birth, foster, or stepchild of their own child.
- The grandchild must be under 19. If they are older than 19, they must be disabled.
- The grandchild cannot file their own tax return.
- A grandchild must have lived with their grandparents for at least six months.
- A grandparent cannot be claimed as a dependent by another relative.
Tax Benefits and How You Can Qualify
- Dependency Exemption: A dependency exemption is an income that isn’t taxed for each of a grandparent’s dependents. The maximum deduction amount is $1,110, on average, if a grandchild is a dependent.
- Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): The EITC is a tax credit for low or moderate-income grandparents raising grandchildren. Depending on a grandparent’s adjusted gross income, taxpayers can receive at least $3,618 per dependent child. In order to receive the EITC, a grandchild must be under 19. If a grandchild is disabled, there is no age limit to claim the earned income tax credit.
- Child Tax Credit: The child tax credit is a credit given to grandparents for each dependent grandchild. Because of the recent American Rescue Plan, the child tax credit has been increased to $3,000 for children 17 and under. The tax credit increases even more to $3,600 if a grandparent’s dependent grandchild is six or younger.
- American Opportunity Tax Credit: The American Opportunity Tax Credit helps grandparents with grandchildren who are attending college. The credit reimburses grandparents for covering students’ first four years of college expenses. A grandparent’s income must be $80,000 or less to qualify for the credit. Grandparents can claim up to $2,500 per student.
- Lifetime Learning Tax Credit: In addition to the American Opportunity Tax Credit, the Lifetime Learning credit can help grandparents recoup education expenses. However, this credit can’t be combined with the American Opportunity Tax Credit. The Lifetime Learning Tax Credit is for students enrolled in a college. The credit can lower debts by up to $2,000 but can’t be issued to grandparents or grandchild students as a refund.
- Adoption Tax Credit: When grandparents formally adopt their grandchildren, they can get an adoption tax credit. The credit for each child is $14,440 if a grandparent’s adoption expenses exceed that amount. The adoption tax credit is given if a grandparent pays adoption expenses on their own. The credit is used to pay down IRS debt but can’t be issued as a refund.
Addressing Parenting Challenges
In addition to financial challenges, many emotional issues arise as grandparents raise grandchildren. Grandparents must become parents for a second time under new circumstances. Grandchildren may take time to adjust to significant life changes. These are some of the challenges grandparents face as they take on a guardianship role:
Grandchildren may be hesitant to live with their grandparents. Being separated from a parent for a long time can be anxiety-provoking for grandchildren, especially if a parent is incarcerated or serving in the military. Grandchildren may feel they are being abandoned and may develop behavioral problems due to uncertainty in their lives. The Crisis Text Line can help children if they need support.
Grandparents may become stressed at the prospect of raising children at an advanced age. Grandparents may also face additional trauma if their child has an addiction or mental health issue that keeps them from parenting. Grandparents can go to Helpguide.gov for mental health resources.
Young people who are physically active can quickly drain the energy levels of the grandparents charged with taking care of them. Grandparents may be dealing with health issues like arthritis which can limit their ability to keep up with their grandkids. Exercising or just spending time outdoors can help families find a balance.
Grandparents and grandchildren may have trouble relating to each other. Grandparents may not be used to grandchildren talking in slang and using their phones often. Grandchildren may not adjust well to a grandparent’s strict rules and curfews. To bridge this gap, grandchildren can help seniors become more comfortable with digital media and other fun activities. Grandparents can bond with their grandchildren by teaching them how to cook or engage in other activities.
The golden years of retirement can be upended when grandparents have to take care of their grandchildren. Grandparents can alleviate this difficulty by taking time for self-care, doing a hobby or just taking a few minutes to rest throughout the day.
Navigating Custody and Guardianship of a Grandchild
Legal issues must be addressed if a parent relinquishes custody of their child. From temporary custody to formal adoption, there are several options.
How to Get Custody
Grandparents can become legal guardians in a variety of ways. In some situations, grandparents can also obtain custody without having to consult a lawyer at all.
A temporary guardianship agreement enables a grandparent to get temporary custody of a grandchild. Once the agreement is notarized, a grandparent may be able to avoid going to court to formalize it. The agreement lasts for six months and can be extended for longer with a parent’s consent.
Standby guardianship allows grandparents to gain custody of their grandchildren without consulting a lawyer. This type of guardianship starts when a parent can no longer take care of a child for reasons such as incarceration or drug rehabilitation. A parent needs to sign over custody of their children in an agreement that usually lasts a year.
To obtain permanent guardianship, a grandparent must make sure a parent has terminated their parental rights. Parental rights may be terminated if a parent abandons a child or has other issues that cause them to lose custody. A grandparent can then be appointed guardian by a court.
A grandparent can take steps to move from guardianship to adoption. An adoption lawyer can help a grandparent petition a court to formally adopt a child. A grandparent will then have to prove they meet the requirements in their state and fill out the proper adoption forms in their state. After a court hearing, grandparents can make the adoption of their grandchildren complete.
What Is the Difference Between Legal Guardianship and Custody?
There are subtle differences between guardianship and custody. Custody focuses on where a child lives and how a child is raised. Guardianship concerns a grandparent making legal decisions for a child.
Grandparents can also get custody of their grandchildren for a shorter period of time than guardianship. A guardianship can be less flexible than having custody. While every case is different, it may take grandparents between two weeks and two months to obtain guardianship of a child once proceedings have begun.
Can You File for Child Support as a Grandparent?
A grandparent can file to obtain support from their children if they’re raising their grandchildren. Grandparents can get child support under certain conditions, such as a court order. If a grandparent has a low income, application fees to obtain child support from a parent may also be waived.
Subsidized guardianship programs can compensate some grandparents for caring for grandchildren. The payments vary by state but are usually available to grandparents who are guardians of children who have been in foster care.
Grandparents who legally adopt take on total responsibility for the care of a child. Therefore, they are not eligible for child support if their children have severed their parental rights.
Expert Insight on Finance and Grandparenting
- What resources are there for grandparents raising grandchildren?
- What actions can grandparents take to care for their grandchildren financially?
Leading Foster Care Expert and Founder of The Foster Care Institute.
President and CEO of IBC Bank-Austin
Associate Professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago
Owner and Financial Advisor at A.B. Ridgeway Wealth Management
While there are many challenges for grandparents raising grandchildren, many resources can help provide support.
- AARP: The American Association of Retired Persons is an organization that helps seniors find information on services and programs. Members can receive discounts on certain services.
- Grandfamilies.org: Grandfamilies offers a list of legal resources for grandparents. Information on state laws can help inform seniors on how to care for their grandchildren.
- Catholic Charities: Catholic Charities is a nonprofit charity network that helps grandparents with food, housing and other issues. The organization helps grandparents regardless of their faith.
- Brookdale Foundation's Relatives as Parents Program (RAPP): The foundation runs the RAPP to encourage and promote the creation or expansion of services for grandparents and others who become surrogate parents.
- Zerotothree.org: This resource helps ensure that babies and toddlers establish early connections that are critical to their well-being and development.
- Generations United: This organization takes a multi-generational approach to improving lives through programs, policies and strategies.
- The National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights: The committee offers legal help to grandparents who support grandchildren.
- American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law: The association offers legal assistance to grandparents trying to gain custody of their grandchildren as a kinship guardian.
About Ella Vincent
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- AARP. "Your Guide to Public Benefits." Accessed May 8, 2021.
- Father Matters. "23 Statistics on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren." Accessed May 17, 2021.
- Grandfamilies. "State Fact Sheets." Accessed May 12, 2021.
- Internal Revenue Service. "Earned Income Tax Credit." Accessed May 17, 2021.
- Pediatrics. "https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/144/2_MeetingAbstract/77." Accessed May 17, 2021.
- U.S. Census. "The Opioid Prescribing Rate and Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: State and County Level Analysis." Accessed May 19, 2023.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Expenditures on Children by Families, 2015." Accessed May 17, 2021.