Dear Savvy Senior,
Where can grandparents raising grandchildren find help? My two grandkids are about to move in with me indefinitely, and I’m looking to find out what resources are available that can help us. —Grappling Grandma
You definitely have plenty of company on this issue. Across the U.S., more than 2.4 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren, as the parents struggle with a variety of serious problems such as drug or alcohol addiction, financial hardship, mental illness, prison time, domestic violence, divorce and more.
While there are many financial, legal and even emotional issues to think about when you begin to raise a grandchild, you’ll be happy to know that help is available. Here are some tips and resources along with supportive services to check into.
Even if it’s not your thing, support groups for grandparents raising grandchildren are fantastic tools to connect you with other people who understand what you’re experiencing, not to mention it gives you a chance to learn and share information and resources. To find local and online support groups, visit the AARP Foundation Grandparent Information Center at www.giclocalsupport.org where you can do a search by city or zip code.
Raising or taking care of grandkids can be a major strain on the pocketbook, but financial assistance is available depending on your circumstances. For starters, find out whether your grandchild or family qualifies for Social Security (www.ssa.gov/kids/parent5.htm), your state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa) or food stamps (www.fns.usda.gov/fsp). Also visit www.benefitscheckup.org, a comprehensive Web resource that helps you search for additional government and private benefits you may be eligible for, such as supplemental income, lower energy bills, discounts on prescription medications and more.
Grandparents who are raising children may also be eligible for tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is available to those with low or moderate incomes. If you make too much money to qualify for the EITC, you may be able to apply for the Child Tax Credit. And if you’re raising three or more kids, you can try for the Additional Child Tax Credit. Also available is the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to families who incur child care expenditures in order to work. To learn more, visit www.irs.gov or call the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040.
Ask a family law attorney to help you determine whether or not it would be beneficial for you to become your grandchild’s legal guardian. This status will allow you to make important decisions for the child such as enrolling them in school (some states require it), or giving a doctor permission to treat them. For help finding legal advice or locating an attorney visit www.findlegalhelp.org, a consumers guide created by the American Bar Association that can also help you locate free legal services depending on your income.
If you need health insurance for your grandchildren, you can apply for free or low-cost health insurance (depending on your income level) through your state government. To learn more and find out if you’re eligible go to www.insurekidsnow.gov, or call 877-543-7669. You also may be able to get help through Medicaid. Also visit the National Association of Insurance Commissioners Web site at www.insureuonline.org — click on “Raising Grandchildren,” for tips and information on a variety of other insurance considerations.
Savvy Tip: The best overall resource for grandparents raising grandchildren is AARP (www.aarp.org/family/grandparenting), which offers a bevy of articles and helpful information including a GrandCare tool kit.