An Unexpected Challenge
When Sandy Andersen became the primary caregiver of her three-year-old granddaughter Britanya in 2011, she had a lot of questions.
"It's been almost 30 years since I raised a child, and a lot has changed since then," she said. "I just thank my lucky stars for Head Start."
The number of grandparents serving as primary caregivers for their grandchildren has increased dramatically in the past twenty years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than six million children across the country are being raised by relatives other than their parents. Western Dairyland Head Start Director Mary Jo Hite said it's a trend they've witnessed first-hand in Western Wisconsin.
"We see all kinds of families in Head Start - grandparents, aunts, uncles, single parents," Hite said. "Approximately 50% of our families are non-traditional in that they are not two-parent households."
These grandparent and other relative caregivers and the children they are raising are often isolated. They lack information about the range of support services, resources, programs, benefits, laws and policies available to help them successfully fulfill their care giving role. In addition, to better serve children, families and older adults, educators and program practitioners need access to information about these key resources.
Andersen said she initially had questions about raising her granddaughter when it came to nutrition and behavioral problems. Head Start teachers were always willing to find answers for her, and they connected Andersen with resources throughout the community, including GAP - Grandparents (and others) As Parents.
Andersen, who admits she still has a lot to learn, is now a more confident grandparent heading into Britanya's second year of Head Start.
"Head Start is fantastic, just fantastic," Andersen said. "I just couldn't imagine doing this without their help."