Summary of Work: It is widely known that when parents face challenges that undermine their capacity to care for their children, grandmothers are the primary safety net. In fact, there are more grandparent-headed households (GPHH) today than at any other time in American history. Since 1970, the number of skipped-generation households (SGHH), defined as grandparents assuming full-responsibility for their grandchildren's care in the absence of parents, has increased 77% to approximately 2.4 million. Scholars, policy makers, and service providers have noted that grandparent caregivers are increasingly urban, low-income black grandmothers, despite their own financial insecurity, residence in beleaguered inner-city neighborhoods, frequently impaired physical health, and often single marital status. While African Americans represent 12.5% of the United States population, in 2000 they accounted for 38% of GPHH. African Americans are four and a half times more likely to be custodial grandparents than their White counterparts. Among African American grandparents, those who are the most economically disadvantaged and who have the fewest resources to draw upon are the most likely to be thrust into the primary caretaker role; including those living below the poverty level, without a high school degree, with more functional limitations, and women receiving public assistance.

The planned postdoctoral research project synthesizes the Fellow's Ph.D. dissertation findings with projects aimed to explore a number of questions that emerged during the Ph.D. research that beg further investigation. Specifically, (1) how low-income, urban black custodial grandmothers manage child care; (2) the child-rearing experiences and decision-making processes of low-income, urban black mothers whose children are being cared for by grandparents; and (3) which custodial grandmothers engage in what type of stress-denial in the face of obvious hardship, and how this influences their help-seeking behavior, service utilization patterns, and health.

Answering these questions allows one to capture the full depth and breadth of contemporary SGHH, especially since these issues are largely missing from extant literature. For instance, it is known that drug addiction, divorce, mental and physical illness, incarceration, joblessness, and homelessness are reasons identified in previous research as contributing to parents' inability to care for their children. However, scholarship that directly addresses how mothers come to voluntarily or involuntarily relinquish care of their children within the context of their personal troubles, family forms and dynamics, child welfare system policies, and available choices, is almost non-existent. Furthermore, while it is understood that lack of child care options can render low-income families' efforts to become self-sufficient and to facilitate the successful development of their children impossible, less is known about the child care experiences and related social processes of low-income, urban Black custodial grandmothers, what their child care needs are and how they achieve them, or how their efforts shape and are shaped by their child care experiences and options. Finally, previous studies consistently report poor health outcomes among caretaking grandmothers, compared to their non-caretaking counterparts. Unfortunately, understanding coping processes that contribute to their and their grandchildren's poor health and to unexplainable racial disparities in health outcomes is vital as more grandmothers are increasingly thrust into the primary caretaking role- has received little attention from scholars in this area.

Intellectual Merit. The aim of this research is to be the first empirical study that provides a comprehensive look at the experiences of low-income, urban black SGHH. This will be accomplished by using in-depth interviews with low-income, urban black caretaking grandmothers; child care agents; and poor and working-class black mothers whose children are being raised by their parents in Chicago. The Fellow will also conduct participant observation sessions in child care settings and in venues where mothers? parenting role is salient. Lastly, the Fellow will integrate bio-marker instruments and frameworks into existing methodological approaches to compare the health outcomes, coping processes, and caretaking experiences of low-income black and white caretaking grandmothers.

Broader Impacts. The study's greatest utility is its potential to help inform debates about the intersection of low income families' decision making processes, strategies, and experiences, with local and national child care policies and programs and to develop new ways to address their childrearing, caretaking, and health issues. In instances in which mothers are managing their parental roles or when grandmothers are managing their child care agenda or stressors with negative consequences to their family's economic, educational, and social well-being awareness, increasing availability, and negotiating access to social welfare systems become paramount. This interdisciplinary work is poised to produce useful information about how vulnerable populations lose ground in their struggle to raise their children and the social relations embedded in their efforts. A number of innovative techniques are planned for dissemination of the results and to increase the study's real world impact.

Project Report

There are more grandparent-headed households (GPHH) today than at any other time in American history. Of the 2.7 million grandparents primarily responsible for their grandchildren, 63% are women (Mascia 2011; U.S Census Bureau 2010). GPHH have poverty rates higher than the total U.S. population of people over 60 and parent-headed households. Approximately 20% live below the federal poverty level (FPL), 47% live 1-3 times the FPL, 23% live 3-5 times the FPL, and 12% live 5 times the FPL or higher (Goyer 2010; Livingston and Parker 2010). Poverty rates worsen for skipped-generation households (SGH), defined as GPHH with no parent present. Approximately one-third (32%) of SGH live below the FPL, which is nearly double the child poverty rate of parent-child families (Generations United 2009). SGH headed by grandmothers are the worst off, with 2/3 of them living in poverty. Not only are grandparent caregivers more likely to be women and to have dismal poverty rates, but also they are disproportionately African American (Silverstein, Meyer, and Fuller-Thomson 2011). Although African Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population they account for 24 percent of GPHH. African Americans are nearly twice as likely to live in SGH than their white counterparts (13 versus 7 percent) (Pew Research Center 2010; U.S. Census Bureau 2010). African American grandmothers experience significant disadvantages compared to other grandparent caregivers. They are more likely to (1) live at or below the FPL, (2) reside in or near beleaguered inner-city neighborhoods, (3) provide primary care alone and with impaired physical health, (4) provide care for children in state custody, (5) rear more grandchildren and for considerably longer periods of time, and (6) to be younger. Despite their own vulnerabilities, African American grandmothers are the primary safety net for children whose parents are unable to care for them. The disadvantages they face are exacerbated by disparities they experience caring for children inside and outside the child welfare system (U.S. General Accounting Office 1999; Brooks and Barth 1998; Scannapieco, Hegar, and McAlpine 1997; Gebel 1996; Berrick, Barth, and Needdell 1994). While kinship care saves the state approximately $6.5 billion/year, compared to non-relative foster parents, kinship caregivers receive less training and support, and fewer services and resources (Butts 2005; Roberts 2002). In light of these alarming statistics and the urgent need to create scholarship and policies that help to address these issues, I devised a study that generates research findings, methodological tools, and administrative experience as the basis of the proposed National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. Recent changes in child welfare and kinship care policy have significantly altered the socioeconomic, political and legal landscape of contemporary grandparent caregiving. In particular, I learned that such policies have produced a range of care-types available to and required of caregiving grandparents. Care-types are the care arrangements that exist between caregivers and the children in their care, and vary by degree of state involvement, with informal kinship care at one end of the continuum and adoption at the other. The unprecedented formalization of kinship care, expedited termination of parental rights, and conflict between parents and grandparents over the best interests of children require custodial grandparents to make determinations about care-type or engage the institutional decision-making process. Interview data collected from 50 African American custodial grandmothers from Chicago are used to reveal the ways in which parents shape custodial grandmothers’ institutional decisions. These findings have been published in Women, Gender, & Families of Color Journal. Changes in child welfare and kinship care policies have also resulted in more grandparents providing care under the auspices of the child welfare system. I demonstrate the ways in which custodial grandmothers manage both their child welfare system involvement and an unequal system of care within the kinship foster care system. These manuscripts have been presented at the Institute for Research on Poverty (University of Wisconsin, Madison). In addition to child welfare and kinship care policy; child care policy has implications for the 61% of grandparent caregivers still in the labor market (U.S. Census Bureau 2009). I learned that a lack of childcare options could render low-income families efforts to become self-sufficient and to facilitate the successful development of their children challenging. By using data from in-depth interviews and ethnography with 27 low-income, African American custodial grandmothers residing in the greater Chicago metropolitan area and their child care providers, I show the ways in which their child care experiences and related social processes shape and are shaped by their child care options. Manuscripts detailing these findings have been presented at the Welfare Research and Evaluation Conference, Eastern Sociological Society, Society for Social Work and Research, and Association of Black Sociologists Annual Meetings.

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Fahmida N. Chowdhury
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Pittman, Lashawnda L
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