Grandparent caregivers have low receipt of public assistance despite high levels of poverty (Brandon, 2005). This is true among caregivers raising grandchildren outside the children welfare system. Despite similarities in both type and level of need, caregivers whose children are not involved with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) are less likely to access formal services including respite care, public assistance, and legal advice (Lindsey, Meril, & Norella, 2008). This shows that there are barriers in access to public support among grandparent caregivers who are informally raising their grandchildren.
Strict eligibility requirements for public assistance may be prohibitive for many grandparent caregivers in the United States. Grandparents who are otherwise eligible to collect welfare based on their own income may be discouraged by the strict work requirements either due to their prior exit from the labor force or because of their advancing age, poor health or functional status (Cohen, 2006). In addition, grandparents who received benefits while raising their own children may be ineligible to receive funding to raise their grandchildren if they have previously exceeded the time limits imposed by welfare reform. Grandparents may be eligible to receive child-only payments that are exempt from these requirements; however, these benefits are much lower than family benefits. As a consequence, the neediest families (e.g. chronically poor households) may actually be the least likely to receive benefits through this technique.
Grandparents have also reported much difficulty in obtaining health insurance for the grandchildren they are raising, especially those who do not have legal custody of the grandchild (Casper & Bryson, 2002). Health insurance for children within the United States is obtained primarily through the employer of their primary caregiver, with the exception of children from low-income families who are often insured through a range of need based public health insurance programs.
Grandparents who are retired (or otherwise not employed) are unlikely to have access to a reasonably priced group plan and may have to turn to an expensive private plan if the grandchild cannot be insured through a parent. Even grandparent caregivers who are employed may have difficulty obtaining benefits for a grandchild if their employer does not consider the grandchild a dependent. This situation is quite common among grandparents who are informally raising a grandchild; in fact, out of more than 50 companies surveyed by Generations United, none allowed grandparents to include grandchildren on a health insurance plan unless a formal legal relationship had been established (Generations United, 2002).
Grandparents raising grandchildren are also in danger of living in poor housing conditions. Over 14% of grandparent caregivers live in overcrowded housing conditions, compared with just over 4% their peers; grandparents who rent have been identified as an especially vulnerable population as nearly 30% live in overcrowded conditions (Fuller-Thomson & Minkler, 2003). This level of overcrowding is not surprising considering that the entrance of the grandchild into the household can be unexpected and sudden; housing meant for one or two older adults suddenly has got to fulfill the family needs. In recent years, many states have begun to introduce public housing specifically targeted at grandparent caregivers. An example of this is Nyumbani Village in Kitui County, a 27-unit (each unit with 4 clusters) housing project aimed at housing grandparents raising grandchildren. While programs such as this have been helpful in addressing the housing needs of grandparent caregivers, they are limited in scope and are only practical for those caregivers who have permanent custody of their grandchildren.