Grandmothers’ Involvement among Adolescents Growing Up in Poverty Laura D. Pittman Northern Illinois University Poster presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence in Baltimore, MD on March 12, 2004
Abstract Recent policy decisions associated with welfare reform and the foster care system put grandparents in the position of serving as the safety net for their grandchildren when family problems arise. These policy changes are formalizing and promoting the informal role extended kin, especially grandmothers, have often played in low income minority families. However, little is known about how varying types of grandmother involvement may influence children’s functioning. This paper uses data from Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three-City Study, a longitudinal study sampling low-income minority youth from high-poverty neighborhoods, to explore how young adolescents function both initially and over time based on grandmothers’ residential status and their level of caretaking responsibility. Longitudinal analyses found striking differences based on the type of grandmother involvement. Adolescents with coresiding grandmothers reported lower levels of internalizing symptoms than their peers, but these differences were no longer significant when co-occurring background and family characteristics were included in the analyses. With the inclusion of these co-occurring characteristics, adolescents with a custodial grandmother displayed greater levels of externalizing problem behaviors over time as compared to their peers.
The Role of Grandmothers • Among African American and Hispanic American families extended kin play a more important role than in Caucasian families • Recent policy decisions have increased the likelihood that extended kin, especially grandmothers, will serve as safety nets in low-income families • TANF regulations for adolescent mothers require that they live with their own mothers • Kinship care in the foster care system is being promoted • 23% of childcare in low-income families is provided by grandmothers • Grandparent-headed households rose by 70% between 1980 & 1997
Grandparents and Child Functioning • Children living with custodial grandparents have been found to have worse academic outcomes, but the link to behavioral problems has been inconsistent. • Children living in multigenerational households (i.e., coresiding grandmothers) appear to have better mental health compared to single-parent households, but these findings are mixed if the mother is young.
Limitations of past research • Past research usually has been cross-sectional in design and often has not taking into account co-occurring maternal and family characteristics that may account for differences between children’s functioning. • Also, research to date has primarily focused on a broad age range, primarily from infants through the elementary years, but not adolescents.
Welfare, Children and Families: A Three-City Study • 2402 families completed both adult and youth interview at Time 1 (1999) • Children 0-4 or 10-14 years old • 74% overall response rate • 88% of families retained at Time 2 (2000-2001) • 16 months later on average • Main Survey included: • Two-hour interview with mother • 30 minute interview with young adolescents • Two individually administered achievement subtests • This paper focuses on the young adolescents (age 10-14 years) and their families who participated at both time points
Measurement Of Young Adolescents’ Socio-emotional Functioning • Mothers reported on their child’s Internalizing & Externalizing Problem Behaviors using the 100-item Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1991). • Adolescents reported on their Internalizing Problem Behaviors using the Brief Symptom Inventory 18 (Derogatis, 2000). • Adolescents reported on their delinquency using items modified from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY; Borus, Carpenter, Crowley & Daymont, 1982) and the Youth Deviance Scale (Gold, 1970; Steinberg, Mounts, Lamborn, & Dornbusch, 1991).
Measurement of Background & Family Characteristics • Detailed information about all members of the household were gathered including educational attainment, race/ethnicity, age, gender, and marital status. • Detailed household income data was gathered and was used to calculate an income-to-needs ratio. • Caregivers also reported on their own physical and mental health, the households’ experiences of material hardship (e.g., financial strain, food insecurity). • Caregivers and adolescents reported on various aspects of parenting. Three composite measures combining data from both reporters were created: (1) Negative Parenting (2) Provision of Structure (3) Parental Engagement
Categorical Variables Indicating Types of Grandmother Involvement • Custodial: grandmother is the primary caregiver of youth, no biological parent in the home • Coresiding: grandmother lives in home with child and biological parent(s) • Caregiving: grandmother does not live in home, but takes some or most of the responsibility for caring for youth • Non-caregiving: grandmother does not live in home and takes no responsibility for care of child • Not present: grandmother is either dead or uninvolved in the family’s life • Note: Youth whose primary caregiver was neither the biological mothers nor the grandmother (e.g., an aunt) were excluded from these analyses
Young adolescents 47% female; 53% male Mean age: 12.50 years 40% African American 54% Hispanic American 4% Caucasian Caregivers Mean age: 38 Years Mean Income-to-Needs Ratio: .74 34% Married; 62% Single 39% Below High School Education Background Characteristics at Time 1 (N = 1119)
Analysis Plan • Using two waves of data, examined changes in adolescents’ socio-emotional functioning based on type of grandmothers’ involvement • Only included adolescents who had the same type of grandmother involvement in both waves because Ns were too small to consider those with transitions. • Included Time 1 child functioning measure as a way to control for pre-existing characteristics of the youth and family • Two models were run: (1) Time 1 functioning + grandmother involvement dummy variables (2) Time 1 functioning + grandmother involvement dummy variables + Time 1 background and family characteristics • All analysis weighted and run in STATA
Summary of Longitudinal Results • Adolescents with custodial grandmothers have more internalizing & externalizing problems than adolescents with most other types of grandmother involvement • These differences are only significant after including background and family characteristics in the model. • Adolescents report lower levels of internalizing symptoms when living in a multigenerational household. • This difference is no longer significant when background and family characteristics included.
Conclusions • Young adolescents who are being raised by a custodial grandmothers appear to be at risk for involvement in delinquent activities. Programs targeting such families may help by directly intervening with the young adolescents but also providing supportive services to the grandmothers. • Young adolescents living in multigenerational households appear to have fewer internalizing symptoms than their peers. Given that this difference disappeared with the inclusion of co-occurring background and family variables, it is likely that pre-existing differences in this group provide protective factors in the youth’s development. • For example, we know from other analysis that there is more parental engagement and lower levels of material hardship in these multigenerational households • Caregivers, but not adolescents, report that the young adolescents are doing better when no grandmother is present. Perhaps caregivers feel less stress when they are not having demands from two separate generations in terms of caregiving.