Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Kentuckians raising grandkids

Number increasing, census indicates

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT — An estimated 39,000 Kentuckians are raising their grandchildren, and a third of them have been doing it for at least five years, according to census figures released Monday.

        “This has been going on a long time,” said Greg Cooper of Elizabethtown, who adopted his granddaughter nine years ago. “I'm sure it's getting worse, but it's something people didn't talk about.”

        The Census Bureau last month reported that 70,000 Kentucky children lived in households headed by a grandparent last year, an increase of about 11,000 from the 1990 census. The new figures, estimates from a supplementary survey administered at the same time as Census 2000, take the numbers a step further.

        The survey indicated 78,000 Kentuckians had minor grandchildren in their household, and about half were actually raising them. Thirteen thousand had borne the responsibility for five or more years. Thirty thousand had borne it for at least one year.

        “It's been increasing over the last two decades,” Lori Garkovich, a University of Kentucky rural sociologist, said.

        “It's getting big enough now that people are really noticing, rather than something demographers look at and say, "Isn't that interesting?'” she said.

        Why the increase? Experts cite a list: Divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, rising incarceration rates for women, out-of-wedlock births, personal financial calamities, among others.

        Mr. Cooper said he and his wife, Laura, adopted 9-year-old Amber while their own daughter, herself adopted after an abusive early childhood, battled drug and alcohol addictions.

        That was in Michigan, where Mr. Cooper was a telecommunications manager. Now semiretired and living in Elizabethtown, the couple started a support group, Open Arms, for grandparents and others who suddenly find themselves raising someone else's children.

        Mr. Cooper, an outreach worker at Lincoln Trail Elementary School in Hardin County, said the group provides information and emotional support throughout a process that can be legally bewildering and is invariably expensive.

        For example, to enroll a child in school requires guardianship, which means having to hire a lawyer, who wants money up front, Mr. Cooper said.

        If there is a fight for custody, the court will appoint a lawyer for an indigent parent but not for a grandparent. Yet, the census survey indicated that perhaps one-fourth of grandparents raising grandchildren had incomes below a poverty level.

        Mr. Cooper said that did not surprise him. “Typically, we see our grandparents struggling themselves, financially,” he said.


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