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More are raising their children's children

August 26, 1998

Raising GrandkidsBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer [enlarge]




MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Stephen and Nancy Bender have raised one family, and now find themselves among the growing number of grandparents raising their children's children.

"All the things you had to do as a parent, you have to do over again," said Stephen Bender, 50, of raising his 7-year-old granddaughter, Missy.

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The Benders, of Mercersburg, were awarded legal custody of Missy last year, according to Franklin County Court records. She has lived with them for about two years before that.

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Across the U.S., some 4 million children were being raised by grandparents in 1996, the most recent year for which figures were available, according to Dena Targ, an associate professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University in Indiana.

That was up from 2.4 million in 1990, said Targ, co-chair of a committee planning a Jan. 12 nationwide video conference titled, "Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Implications for Professionals and Agencies."

The Benders are helping to organize a local support group to help those coping with parenthood the second time around. An organizational meeting for the group is scheduled for Sept. 29 at 7 p.m., at St. John's Lutheran Church in Mercersburg. Topics will range from financial strains to the pleasures of raising grandkids.

Targ said of grandparents raising their children's children, 48 percent are headed by both grandparents, 46 percent by grandmothers and 6 percent by grandfathers.

"The status of these children is often not clear, legally," said Targ.

Some grandparents have temporary custody, while others adopt their grandchildren. Often, she said, there is no formal custody arrangement.

Clear documentation helps, according to Bender, who said he had to present custody documents when signing Missy up for soccer and for school. He said the IRS also wants documents from people claiming dependents for the first time in years.

Raising grandchildren can be a financial burden for grandparents on fixed incomes or those living on retirement savings, said Targ. Often, the grandparents still work, which means they have to pay for day care.

There are concerns about providing for a child's financial security as grandparents grow older. Bender said they have set aside some money for Missy's future.

"We've found out in forming this group that the majority of grandparents don't get any kind of financial aid," Bender said.

Evelyn Bowers, 55, of Mercersburg, is raising two granddaughters, ages 7 and 5, on disability, Social Security and some state assistance for the younger granddaughter.

Bowers said she needed moral support after taking custody of the second granddaughter and is looking forward to the support group.

"Some days it can be pretty hectic ... I guess it's age and being single," she said.

The reasons grandparents end up raising grandchildren are varied. A parent may die or become seriously ill. In other cases, parents can't or won't take responsibility for raising their children.

Jill and Bob Rogers of Mercersburg are both 49 and on disability. They have residential custody of their 9-year-old granddaughter, Stephanie, who Jill Rogers said has lived with them since she was born.

Their situation is helped by support payments from Stephanie's father. Jill Rogers said Stephanie's uncle, her other grandmother and other relatives help out by keeping her occasionally or taking her on trips.

Despite the difficulties, raising grandchildren has its rewards, Bowers said.

"Seeing them happy, content, stabilized ... The security means so much to a little one," Bowers said.

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