chapter  16
16 Pages

Promoting Family Empowerment Among African American Grandmothers Raising Grandchildren

In the U.S., there are 2.4 million grandparents serving as primary caregivers for their grandchildren (Simmons & Dye, 2003). Parental substance abuse, psychiatric disorders, incarceration, homicide, HIV-AIDS are the primary reasons grandparents are raising their grandchildren (Dowdell, 1995; Kelley, Whitley, & Sipe, 2007; Poindexter & Linsk, 1999; Vega, et al., 1993). Clearly, many custodial grandparents are raising grandchildren under very difficult circumstances. The myriad of challenges faced by custodial grandparents is defined in the literature, including limited financial resources, emotional distress, social isolation, inability to access necessary community-based private/public support services (Landry-Meyer, Gerard, & Guzell, 2005; Waldrop & Weber, 2001). In addition, as older custodial grandparents experience the effects of aging, many become anxious about parenting grandchildren as their physical/mental

capacity declines, further exacerbating any perceived lack of competence to fully meet the demands of parenting (Fuller-Thomson & Minkler, 2000). The literature also provides descriptions of various service delivery initiatives that offer a range of support services for grandparents. Case management, respite care, health services, support groups, parent education classes, legal assistance, and material aid are notable services targeted to custodial grandparents (Cox, 2002; Dannison & Smith, 2003; Kelley, Whitley, & Campos, 2010; McCallion, Janicki, Grant-Griffin, & Kolomer, 2000). Program descriptions often suggest empowerment is a desired outcome for program participants. There is the expectation that through specialized intervention services, grandparents’ will feel empowered to manage their parenting responsibilities with competence, to acquire a positive perspective about their support networks, and to master advocacy skills to benefit their families. However, past studies have based conclusions about empowered participants largely on small sample sizes and anecdotal statements. In response to this limitation, this chapter extends a previously published study on empowerment of African-American grandmothers that describes an intervention service for custodial grandparents in parent-absent households, with the specific goal of empowering its participants (Whitley, Kelley, & Campos, 2011). The described program accentuates the strengths of grandparents through a comprehensive, interdisciplinary service structure, and facilitates the development of appropriate problem-solving skills to address family needs. The current study presents a portion of the data results from the previous work, but also tests grandparents’ perceptions of family support networks and community resources to ascertain how they might be associated with perceptions of empowerment. In addition, qualitative statements from former program participants further elucidate program effects.