With a carpooling itinerary and activities schedule rivaling those of suburban soccer moms, 69-year-old widow Shirley Reed fills her days parenting for the third time around. Her Aldine-area home bustles with the energy of three great-grandchildren Reed is raising by herself, mostly on her retirement income. The 12-year-old and two 5-year-olds even call her "Mom." Reed had already raised her own four children, then three grandchildren before this brood moved in. In her spare time, she runs the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group of Aldine-Harris County, which she founded in 2003 to support others in her situation. The nonprofit group currently has $22 in the bank. "Some of us are capable of working, some of us have worked so long our backs are broken down and we can barely do it anymore," Reed said. "This is future America, no matter how you do it." The number of grandparents raising their children's children is increasing both in Texas and around the nation. The U.S. Census Bureau's 2008 American Community Survey estimates almost 299,000 Texas grandparents are doing it, a nearly 7 percent increase from 2005. Nearly 43,000 of those grandparents live in Harris County. Nationally, more than 2.6 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, a jump of more than 6 percent since 2005, the survey found. Many Factors Fuel Trend Reed and others attribute the rising numbers to biological parents' incarceration, drug use, mental illness or money woes.
Sometimes, mothers and fathers just aren't willing to be parents. "It's abandonment, where the parents actually just abandon the children for whatever reason," said Lena Bean, program manager of Texas Southern University Center On the Family's Aging and Intergenerational Resources. Despite considerable financial challenges and health problems, grandparents take in the children because they see no alternative, Bean said. "They were raised during a time that you take care of family -- and family was the most important thing to them, no matter what," Bean said. "There's lots of love there.' " 'Do What You Have to Do' Divorced mom Darlene Tillis, 57, is raising seven grandchildren ranging in age from 3 to 13 in her three-bedroom Houston home, where she works as an insurance agent. She gets $150 a month in Women Infants and Children benefits to supplement her income. She cooks, cleans, washes dishes and drives the children around with the help of her 18-year-old daughter, Raquel Tillis. "I love my grandchildren, and I don't want them to get into the hands of someone that I don't know how they're going to treat them," Tillis said. "It is what it is, and you just do what you have to do." Texas grandparents do not automatically have parental rights just because a grandchild moves into their home. They must establish themselves as the child's legal guardian or conservator or pursue adoption to take care of the child's medical needs or enroll the child in school, said Andy Crocker, a gerontology and health specialist at Texas A&M University's Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Limited Support And there is little financial support for grandparents in this situation, experts say. A grandparent at least 45 years old raising a grandchild in a home where no parent is present can apply for a one-time $1,000 payment from Temporary Assistance For Needy Families -- as long as the household income does not exceed twice the federal poverty limit.
Grandparents also can receive monthly stipends from TANF, though experts say the payments are meager -- $89 for one child, $128 for two children and $179 for three children, according to the Texas Legal Services Center. A grandparent raising a disabled child without a parent's help can also apply for Supplemental Security Income, which can amount to a maximum of $674 a month.
Food stamps and Medicaid are options as well, though the application process can be daunting.
Reed laments the limited financial resources for grandparents in her situation. "A mom can be down the road on drugs, and the state will continue sending her a check -- and the children be at the grandparents," she said. "And there's no laws stopping it. And not a penny is going into the household. ... That's the sad part."
And the older generation is reluctant to ask for help or apply for financial assistance, Reed said.
"I hate for the grandparents to figure they're begging," she said. "They have their pride. I want them to maintain that pride. That's all you have left."