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Social services a poor fit for younger grandmothers raising grandchildren

About 2.7 million grandparents in the United States act as the custodial parent for their grandchildren, most of whom are African-American grandmothers.
By Stephen Feller   |   March 9, 2016 at 3:13 PM

ATLANTA, March 9 (UPI) -- Younger grandmothers raising grandchildren without either biological parent in the picture may require different services than older grandmothers in similar situations, researchers found in a recent study.

Social services for support, including those for depression and mental health, may not be best fit for younger grandmothers, who researchers at Georgia State University found report higher levels of emotional distress.

About 2.7 million grandparents in the United States act as the custodial parent for their grandchildren, most of whom are African-American grandmothers.

Previous studies have shown younger grandmothers experience a range of mental health issues -- from depression to a sense of loss because of sacrificing personal goals and finding caregiving less gratifying -- at higher rates than older grandmothers, though the researchers said they were unsure whether social services existed to properly serve these people.

"The question becomes how to better serve young grandparents whose needs are probably different compared to older grandparents," Deborah Whitley, an associate professor at Georgia State University, said in a press release. "Family demands, if not reduced or mediated by these resources, may increase the likelihood of negative outcomes, including a compromised mental health quality of life."

For the study, published in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development, the researchers recruited 667 African American custodial grandmothers, 306 of whom were under age 55, while the other 361 were over age 55.

The participants were offered 12-month support interventions, which included support groups, family case management, navigation services to help them find the appropriate agency and referrals to community agencies for assistance.

Overall, older grandmothers found the services more useful, with their depressive symptoms and mental health quality improving at higher rates than the younger women.

With 40 percent of younger participants scoring in a clinically elevated range for depression, the researchers said further research is needed for support services designed specifically for younger grandmothers.

"Understanding these associations may help in the development and enhancement of mental health practice strategies for all African-American grandmothers who are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren," Whitley said.

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