Montana State University

Grandparents raising grandchildren face challenges aplenty

March 8, 2004 -- by Scott Freutel, MSU News Service

Janet "Grandma Poppy" Kalus-Cummins and her husband, Jake Cummins, are raising their granddaughter Katy Anderson, a fifth-grader at Bozeman's Hawthorne School. “She’s the light of our life,” Grandma Poppy says. Photo by MSU News Service.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- An increasing number of Montanans are raising their grandchildren, prompting the Montana State University Extension Service to help this often elderly population of second-time-around parents. The 2000 census revealed that some 6,050 Montana grandparents are providing primary care for their grandchildren.

Sandra Bailey, MSU Extension family and human development specialist, says there are a number of reasons for this nationwide trend, among them child abuse and child neglect, a parent's drug abuse or other criminal behavior or incarceration, and AIDS and other illnesses.

Whatever the reason, people returning to parenting for the second time can face, in addition to the usual parenting challenges, financial problems and legal and guardianship issues, often against the backdrop of poor relationships with their own child. Grandparents may be insufficiently prepared to deal with disciplining and establishing rules and setting boundaries for grandchildren raised in difficult circumstances.

Bailey said recently that a common complaint of grandparents who find themselves once again in the role of primary caregiver is, "I'm just plain tired!"

As a first step in helping these Montana grandparents, Bailey is helping to establish support groups for them in cooperation with Montana AARP, the Montana Office on Aging, the Child Care Resource and Referral Network, the Montana Headstart Collaboration and Tribal Partners.

Bailey recently obtained a $10,000 grant from the New York-based Brookdale Foundation, which funds programs in geriatrics and gerontology. A portion of the funds was distributed as mini-grants across the state to help communities organize support groups tailored to their needs. Now Bailey and Al Ward, an official at Montana AARP, are showing Extension agents, human services workers and other people how to start such groups for grandparents raising grandchildren. Thus far training sessions have been held in Lewistown, Missoula, and Miles City, and nearly 70 people have been trained as support-group facilitators.

"Our goal," said Bailey, "is to develop a statewide partnership of agencies that can provide information and resources, support groups, and continuing training and facilitation" to anyone who requests assistance. Bailey will be tracking the groups' effectiveness.

Any grandparent raising a grandchild or grandchildren can find out how to participate in a program by telephoning Annie Conway, a graduate student who works with Bailey and who is recruiting participants for a study, at (406) 994-3395. Conway's e-mail is

For information on support groups in your area, or to learn about starting a group of your own, contact your county or tribal MSU Extension office -- the number will be listed in the Yellow Pages county listings -- or the MSU Extension Family and Human Development office at (406) 994-3395. Montana AARP may be reached at (406) 441-2277 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Information about the national AARP Grandparent Information Center is on the Web at

Contact: Annie Conway, MSU Health & Human Development, (406) 994-3395,