Finding Help to Raise a Grandchild

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Are you a grandparent raising a grandchild? You are not alone. More than 2.4 million grandparents are doing the same thing. They stepped in at a moment's notice when their families needed help. They put their own plans on hold. They decided to take care of their grandchildren when the parents of those children could not.
These grandparents are probably a lot like you. The majority are below the age of 60. Most think they are the only ones raising grandchildren. And most don't know where to get the help they need.
There are so many new issues to think about when you begin to raise your grandchild.

Your Legal Status
Some grandparents ask the courts to make them legal guardians for the grandchild they are raising. This allows them to make important decisions for the child. They can enroll the child in school. They can give permission for a doctor to treat the child. They can sometimes get help to pay the bills.
Ask an attorney to help you decide what legal status is best for you and your grandchild. It will cost money to change your legal status. Your son or daughter may object to the change. If this is the case, a judge may not allow it.

Your Finances
Don't use your retirement savings to pay the extra bills that you now are paying. Instead, see if you can get assistance from a few government programs that are there to help you.
• Social Security: Your grandchild may be able to get a Social Security check each month. This may be possible if a parent has died or if your grandchild has a disability.
• TANF: You may also be able to get help through your state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. If you receive TANF money for yourself, TANF rules say that you must get a job or do service work. Some states will waive the rules if you are near retirement age. You might also be able to get a waiver if your grandchild is very young, or if he or she has a special medical problem. Some states will waive the rules if you cannot find child care for a child under 6 years old.
You can avoid TANF's work rules by applying for a "child-only" grant. These are easier to get. The state does not look at your income when it decides if a child can receive TANF funds. Instead, it only looks at the child's income but the amount of the check is less.
• Food Programs: The Food Stamp program gives you coupons or a debit card that you can use to buy food. Another federal program will give you money to buy food for young children. It is called the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children or WIC. Is your grandchild in school? Check with that school to see if the child can get a free breakfast or lunch.
• Earned Income Tax Credit from the IRS: You can receive the Earned Income Tax Credit if you have a job. A taxpayer with one child must earn less than $29,666 to get the credit. A taxpayer with more than one child can't earn more than $33,692.
You can also receive the Child Tax Credit. This credit lets you subtract $600 from your federal tax for each child in your care. You must claim the child as a dependent, the child must be younger than 17, and must be a U.S. citizen.

Your Grandchild's Education
Check with your local school to find out how to enroll your grandchild. Some states have rules about this. They won't let you enroll a child unless you have legal custody. In other states, you only need to show that your grandchild lives with you.
Get to know your grandchild's teacher. Tell the teacher about your grandchild's living situation. Ask the teacher to let you know how the child is doing in school.
Speak up if you think your grandchild needs special services to help him or her do better in school. Ask the school to evaluate the child. Work with the school to come up with a special education plan.

Your Grandchild's Health
Some kids have more medical needs than others. They might wear glasses or braces on their teeth. They may have to see doctors more often because of a serious health condition. Some will need help coping with the changes taking place in the family.
All these health services cost money. How will you pay for them?
There are several places to go for help. Medicaid is a program that pays health-care expenses for people with low incomes. Your grandchild may qualify to receive benefits from this program. If not, he or she may be able to get benefits from the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Each state has a program like this. These programs pay for doctor visits, hospital stays, shots and medicines. Most programs don't look at a grandparent's income when they decide if the child should get help.

Your Health
Now that you are raising your grandchildren, you must take extra steps to protect your own health. If you do this, you will feel better. You will also be able to "be there" for your grandchild for many years to come.
Take time each day to relax. Ask for help from friends and relatives. Find a day-care provider so you can get a break from caregiving. Get regular checkups and take your prescribed medicines. Join a support group. And tell your doctor if you feel depressed. He or she can help.

Most important, enjoy your grandchildren! They will be "all grown up" before you know it!

Additional Resources

AARP Grandparent Information Center (800) 424-3410, www.aarp.org/grandparents
Adoption Information Clearinghouse (888) 251-0075, www.calib.com/naic/pubs/r_grand.cfm
The Brookdale Foundation Group (212) 308-7355, www.brookdalefoundation.org
Child Welfare League of America (202) 638-295,2 www.cwla.org
Children's Defense Fund (202) 628-8787, www.childrensdefense.org
Generations United (202) 638-1263, www.gu.org
Grand Parent Again www.grandparentagain.com
GrandsPlace (860) 763-5789, www.grandsplace.com
National Aging Information Center (202) 619-0724, www.aoa.dhhs.gov
National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights (866) 624-9900, www.grandparentsforchildren.org
The Urban Institute (202) 833-7200, www.urban.org clearpixel.gif Provided by the American Association of Retired Persons