Grandparents Raising Grandchildren - Doubly Stressed Triply Blessed -- Support Groups

Family Caregiving, Military Families March 21, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF
line drawing, couple with children

Section III – Support Groups:

What are support groups?

Support groups are ways for grandparents and other relatives raising children to assist and learn from one another. These support groups can be large or small. Support groups tend to provide social and emotional support for members by providing advice and understanding. Many also serve an educational function. As an example, they may invite professionals to speak on specific items of interest at support group meetings. Some support groups also take on a proactive advocacy component as they work toward making changes in local or state policies. Support groups are also important for resource sharing.

Support group profiles: This section provides brief descriptions of two fictional support groups. For each profile, consider two questions:

  • What may be some issues/problems the group is facing?
  • What are some suggestions/ideas to improve the situation?

Support group profile #1: The Parrish Borough support group for grandparents and other relatives raising children is open to all community members who are interested. The focus of the group is mainly to advocate for relatives raising children through actions such as writing petitions, letters, and legislative bills. The group has monthly meetings to which officials are invited. One difficulty is the low attendance by grandparents. Meetings are held in a meeting room in the City Hall building.

Here are some issues or problems that the group may be facing:

  • Group members might have difficulty finding childcare so they can attend the meetings.
  • There might be a problem with the location. For example, some relative caregivers may be afraid of public officials (especially those who can affect their custody rights) and not want to meet at City Hall.
  • The advocacy-related purpose of group might be unclear to some members.
  • Some group members might be intimidated by the purpose of group and not feel they have political skills.
  • Some members might have needs not being met by the group.

Here are some suggestions/ideas to improve the situation:

  • Provide childcare or open the meeting to children.
  • Change the location to a more “neutral” place (e.g., a community room at the local library).
  • Provide more training about how to achieve advocacy goals.
  • Invite professionals to provide education and information on key issues of interest to the group.
  • Define purpose of group.
  • Poll group members to find out their preferences for meeting times, meeting topics, and meeting functions (e.g., more discussion about social and emotional issues faced by families).

Support group profile #2: The town of Petersburg has a support group that meets weekly at the town’s YMCA. The primary function of the group is to provide social support for its members who are all grandparents or other relatives raising children. Childcare is provided for all attendees. Attendance was high at first for the regular meetings when the focus was on discussing daily living issues facing these families and providing emotional support. Now, attendance is high only for special events such as the picnic and crafts fair.

Here are some issues or problems that the group may be facing:

  • Some participants might feel the group is meeting too often (weekly).
  • There might be a problem with the location (e.g., the distance involved may be burdensome to many of the members).
  • The group might have too broad a focus.
  • There might have been a shift in the needs of the group members (e.g., they might have less need for emotional support and greater need for recreational opportunities than when they first joined the group).
  • Some group members might feel that the term “support group” has a negative connotation (e.g., the term may imply that group participants are especially “needy” for support).

Here are some suggestions/ideas to improve the situation:

  • Poll the group members to see if meeting location is an issue. If it is, consider alternative meeting locations or ways to make travel easier such as car pooling.
  • Consider revising the structure of the group meetings. For example, before having open discussion time, participants might appreciate hearing brief presentations by local professionals on topics of interest (e.g., health, education, and dealing with the legal system). This might help to stimulate and frame new areas for group discussion.
  • Provide food.
  • Consider ways to enhance the childcare component (e.g., plan activities that enable the children to interact in mutually supportive ways and have fun together).
  • Develop contact information for group members for use between meetings. This might be an effective way to get current information to caregivers and families about the community/events/services.
  • Consider alternative names for the group (other than “support group”) such as “Chat and Chews,” “Coffee and Conversation” group, or “Family Talk Time.”

Next Section: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren - Doubly Stressed Triply Blessed -- Evaluation Form

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.