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Why so many Illinois children are being cared for by grandparents

Photo of Karen Lavin

Minor children being cared for by their grandparents is not a new concept, although stark increases in this dynamic have occurred during the past 25 years. In fact, a 2010 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, shows that, in the county as a whole, more than 5.7 million minors are being raised in households headed not by their parents, but by their grandparents.

In the state of Illinois, those same statistics showed that more than 211,919 minors lived in households headed by their grandparents. Of those children, 101,951 were under their grandparents' direct care. Among these different families, grandparents responsible for taking care of their grandchildren for 5 years or more comes in at 40,152 whereas the other 61,799 have been cared for by their grandparents for four years or less time.

When it comes to why grandparents find themselves raising their grandchildren, among the more prominent reasons, it has to do with their parents' alcohol or drug abuse, unemployment or poverty, incarceration or issues related to welfare reform. There are also instances in which grandparents are forced to care for their own children's offspring because their child was a teenager when the child was born.

Other reasons a grandparent might ultimately be asked to take custody of one's grandchild includes a situation in which the parents divorce or there is some concern over abuse, neglect or abandonment being investigated by social services. In either case, awarding custody to the grandparent may be thought to be in the best interest of the child. A parent becoming infected with HIV or AIDS or passing away may result in this as well.

While, in many cases, grandparents secure legal custody or guardianship of their grandchildren when legal action is taken in response to one of the factors above, all families don't formalize parental agreements. This makes it difficult for the grandparent to properly care for the child, especially as it relates to enrolling the child in school, gaining medical information or authorizing treatments and securing benefits for the child.

If you or someone you know is a grandparent either looking to gain custody of your grandchild or merely gain rights to visitation, an Illinois family law attorney will be a wonderful guide.

Source: Illinois Department on Aging, "Facts about children being raised by grandparents," accessed March 15, 2017

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