Help for Raising Grandchildren

Many grandparents in the U.S. end up in a position they never expected to be in during their golden years: raising their own grandchildren. If you are among them, your grandchildren are lucky to have you. Grandparents and other relatives who are caregivers are part of an informal foster care system that saves the country more than $4 billion a year.

Even though you’ve done it before, raising children the second time around may bring up new challenges. Fortunately, state and federal programs are available to help you and your grandfamily. Here are some resources to get you started.

Health insurance for your grandkids

One of your first concerns is making sure that your grandchild is covered by health insurance. To make this process simpler, you should have legal custody or guardianship of your grandchild. You often don’t need this to apply for such insurance. But it will be easier for you later on if you have guardianship.

To get the process started, you can ask a lawyer, a healthcare provider, or a health clinic what the rules are for your state. In some cases, you can simply sign a consent form that says you are caring for the child. In other cases, the parents may need to sign a form. Or you’ll need to prove that you made an effort to try to find the parents.

You have several choices to help you if you can't afford a full-cost policy and your employer will not cover your grandchild. The first is your state’s free or low-cost Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The rules for CHIP vary from state to state. Talk with a local healthcare provider’s office or social worker to get more information.

In other cases, your grandchild might qualify for a federal Medicaid program. The rules can vary from state to state. You’ll need to contact local agencies to see if your grandchild can be covered. Both programs often insure children up to age 19. This covers provider visits, medicine, and hospital visits.

To help, AARP has a Benefits QuickLink on its website. On this page, you can answer a series of questions, learn what programs your grandchild qualifies for, and get links to the forms that you need to fill out.

Nutrition assistance programs

Money can be tight when you have more mouths to feed. This is especially true if you are retired. The federal Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC) helps low-income children ages 5 and younger with healthy, nutritious meals. You can find more details at the WIC website. Your local schools, YMCA, and other organizations may also offer free or low-cost breakfasts and lunches, even during the summer. Call your child’s school to learn more.

Other support for you and your grandkids

Financial support is a big help when caring for grandchildren. But it’s far from a grandparent’s only concern. The federal government has an entire website devoted to grandparents raising grandchildren. On this page, you can find links to more questions about childrearing, health and safety, and other issues you might be facing.

The National Center on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren is based at Western Michigan University. The center's website has more about the organization, its regional affiliates, and other resources.

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