Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Over 2 million grandparents in the US are raising their grandchildren. While there may be much joy and satisfaction in this task, there are also many challenges that grandparents face.

Legal Status

You need to know your legal status when you are raising a grandchild. Without legal protection, you may have a hard time getting healthcare, schooling, or financial assistance. Some legal options include:

  • Adoption: Adoption removes all of the birth parents’ rights and responsibilities. The grandparent becomes the parent in the eyes of the law.
  • Legal custody: When you get a custody order from the court, you are responsible for the child’s care. Custody is granted based on what is best for the child. A custody order is temporary. The parents continue to have legal rights, such as the right to visit the child, unless a judge denies or limits the visits. You may still need a parent’s permission to make medical decisions or to enroll the child in school. Parents could regain custody through the courts.
  • Guardianship: Being a legal guardian allows you to make decisions for the child. You can enroll the child in school and give permission for a healthcare provider to treat the child. A birth parent can go to court and ask for the guardianship to be ended. If this happens, the care and custody of the child is returned to the parent.

Ask a lawyer to help you decide what legal status is best for you and your grandchild.


The costs of raising grandchildren will affect your finances. It may change plans you have made for yourself, such as retirement or vacations. It is important to look into programs that can help with finances.

Government assistance may help cover food, housing, clothing, and mental healthcare. For example, your grandchildren may be eligible to receive Social Security payments if they have a disability or if their parents have died. Each state has its own programs for assisting children. Contact your state’s Department of Human Services or Social Services to find out what is available.


Your home may seem too small after grandkids move in. Some apartments and senior communities do not allow young children. You may need to move or look into other options.


Check with your local school to find out how to enroll your grandchild. Some states won’t let you enroll a child unless you have legal custody or guardianship. In other states, you only need to show that your grandchild lives with you. After your grandchild is enrolled, get to know the child’s teachers.


Children need regular checkups and shots. Your grandchildren may have mental or physical health problems that need special care. You may be able to get help from your state’s Medicaid program. Medicaid pays some healthcare bills for people with low incomes.

You also need to take care of your own health. Take time each day to relax. Get regular checkups and take your prescribed medicines (make sure children cannot access your medicines.) Ask for help from friends and relatives. Join a support group.

Dealing with birth parents

Depending on the situation, you may have problems with the parents of your grandchildren. It may not be easy to help them while taking over the care of your grandchildren. However, for the sake of your grandchildren, try to keep the lines of communication open to their parents. If there is concern about harm to your grandchild, make sure that the child is safe. Follow the court’s orders to allow only supervised visits.

Dealing with kids

Your grandchildren may worry about their parents, feel guilty because they fear that they caused the parents’ problems, or be scared that something might happen to you.

You may feel sorry for your grandchildren. It may be hard to say “no” or to set limits. Or you may feel like you have to be stricter than you were with your own children. You may wonder where you will find the energy to help your grandchildren with their school work or to attend school activities.

There are organizations and people who understand what you are going through and want to help. One place to start is the AARP’s Grandparenting Web page:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-12-08
Last reviewed: 2014-12-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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