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Public Policy and Administration


Lori Demeter


There are many familial and social disparities, including drug addiction and use, incarceration, abandonment, and sometimes the death of a biological parent, that cause grandparents to acquire custody of their grandchildren. Current public welfare policies in some states, however, may not adequately address the needs of custodial grandparents caring for grandchildren and little academic literature exists that explores the unique experiences of custodial grandparents. Using role theory as a foundation, the purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of custodial grandparents in a large mid-western city as their role transitions from grandparent to parent in order to inform public policy. Data were collected from a purposive sample of 20 custodial grandparents who participated in focus groups conducted at senior centers. These data were transcribed, and then subjected to inductive coding followed by a thematic analysis procedure. Key themes revealed the lack of public and social services for informal custodial grandparents were exacerbated by struggles with limited income, child custody, life changes and excessive stress. Another theme indicated a need for basic life assistance that included housing, psychotherapy, and counseling to support custodial grandparents in their continuing efforts to care for grandchildren. Last, a key theme related to behavioral issues with grandchildren due to the absent parent presented a significant challenge for many participants. Implications for positive social change include recommendations to state policy makers to reform public policies for informal custodial grandparents to receive necessary public welfare assistance and social services to support their vulnerable families in order to improve their quality of life.