Saturday, June 01, 2002

Grandparents raising kids

Misfortune, cultural history feed trend

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT, Ky. — Brenda Dempsey is a baby boomer who can't think about retiring. At 54 and divorced, she has taken on a new, full-time job — raising three grandchildren.

        “I'm in it for eternity, I guess,” Ms. Dempsey said.

        New figures from the 2000 census show that Ms. Dempsey's home in Louisville was one of 35,818 Kentucky households in which grandparents were raising their grandchildren. That meant they were responsible for most of the child's needs.

        Better than one in six such households was in Louisville and Jefferson County, the state's most populous area.

        Two other population centers, Fayette and Kenton counties, had a bit more than 3,100 such households between them. Otherwise, the numbers, which were taken from the Census Bureau's long-form questionnaires, were widely distributed. No county had fewer than three dozen such households.

        The Census Bureau has historically counted households in which grandparents and grandchildren lived together. That number was just under 70,000 in Kentucky, an increase of about 11,000 from 1990.

        The 2000 census was the first in which grandparents specifically were asked whether they were responsible for their grandchildren — a circumstance, virtually by definition, most likely born of some misfortune.

        There was no 1990 figure for comparison. But Laura Cooper, who has adopted her granddaughter and runs a support group based in Elizabethtown, said her “gut instinct” is that “it's increasing and it's going to get worse.”

        “Children are just dropping these kids off at Grandma's more and more,” Ms. Cooper said.

        She said the census' total may be understated because those like herself are counted as parents, not grandparents, if they have adopted.

        In some areas, there is a cultural history. Lori Garkovich, a rural sociologist at the University of Kentucky, said it is not uncommon for parents who moved to urban areas for jobs to send their children “home” for reasons of lifestyle or finances. Other reasons cited include drug or alcohol abuse, out-of-wedlock births, poverty or inability to handle parenthood.


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