For every one child raised by a relative in foster care, there are nineteen children being raised by a relative outside of foster care.
And a number of those relatives raising children outside of foster care are grandparents.
In this segment of Raising North Dakota, Alysia Huck introduces us to a local grandmother who shares the joys and challenges of starting over.
9-year-old Aeden is a happy, well-rounded boy who enjoys playing football, PlayStation and swimming.
But he did not have the easiest start to life.
At just 3-years-old, Aeden was living in Las Vegas with his mother who struggled with a drug addiction.
When Aeden’s mother was no longer able to care him, he moved to North Dakota with his aunt, and ultimately, like thousands of children across the nation, his grandmother.
“It became necessary for someone to provide him with a stable, loving environment and so that was me,” Mandan grandmother Cindy Gorham exclaims. “It wasn’t something I had anticipated!”
Cindy Gorham was not aware of all that was happening during those formative years, so when Aeden came to her, there were many challenges and lots of catching up to do.
“Those challenges were something I had not anticipated,” Gorham explains. “but there were a lot of resources and education and I plugged in and now he’s a regular, happy little 9-year-old boy. We’ve done great.”
Statistics show the number of grandparents raising grandchildren is on the rise across the nation.
More than 2.3 million grandparents are responsible for their granchildren in the U.S., and over 4-thousand grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren in North Dakota.
AARP Family and Caregiving Expert Amy Goyer says that while numbers rise and fall with what’s happening in the nation, addiction tends to be the main cause.
“There are many other causes, death of a parent, incarceration, could be related to addiction, you might have a parent who’s deployed, a lot of different situations, maybe mental illness of a parent,” Goyer explains.
When it comes to raising her grandson, Cindy says that while she may be a young grandma, she doesn’t have the physical and mental energy she used to have.
But the biggest, ongoing challenge she faces?
“I had to decrease my 401 contributions significantly in order to provide for Aeden so I have concerns when it comes time for retirement, what’s going to happen,” Gorham professes.
A challenge millions of grandparents face across the nation.
“The financial challenges of raising a grandchild is something you did not plan for. The average age of a grandparent raising a grandchild is fifty-seven, so if fifty-seven nearing retirement or already retired, so that means that retirement savings you built up goes down the drain to pay for tennis shoes for kids, to tutoring, or maybe they need childcare, there are so many expenses associated with raising a child,” explains Goyer.
But as Cindy, and thousands of other grandparents have discovered, there are resources available to help those in need.
While Cindy and Aeden have benefited from some of those programs, she feels that due to so many changes over the years, the criteria for qualifying needs some revamping.
“TANF will give you a couple hundred dollars a month. If I would have said I can’t take him, and they put him in foster care, they would get $800-900 a month. That was really frustrating to me,” Gorham exclaims.
But ultimately, it’s important to do your research and and reach out for help.
And no matter what challenges come along with raising a grandchild, financial or otherwise, Cindy shares what’s most important.
“I felt it was really important to keep Aeden in our family, and he has a very extended family, great grandparents ,very active. I have sisters, big families, and I’ll never forget the first time we were at a family function and he says, ‘Is this all my family?’ And he was just the joy on his face to be part of that,” Gorham shares.
There are a number of resources available to assist grandparents raising their grandchildren, from TANFF, to SNAP, respite care, food and electrical assistance, to education resources.
For a list of key resources, visit the following websites: