Grandparents raising grandchildren find moral support in growing trend

Kathryn and Verner Newman play with their 5-year-old granddaughter, Victoria Newman, Thursday in their backyard. The Newmans are raising Victoria and attend support groups for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.

It’s 8:15 a.m.

In the next 15 minutes, 5-year-old Victoria Newman will finish breakfast with her grandmother, practice a little skateboarding and shoot some hoops with her grandfather.

That’s all before she hitches a ride to school with her aunt, Rebecca Murphy.

Tired yet? Try sticking with the kindergartner if you’re 70 years old.

“She’s definitely a high-energy child,” said Kathryn Newman, Victoria’s grandmother.

Though Victoria has frequent contact with her mother and father, Kathryn and her husband, Verner, have to keep up with her on a daily basis as her legal guardians, along with Murphy.

“It keeps you young, but it hurts,” 76-year old Verner Newman said with a laugh. “It hurts trying to keep up. You get tired real quick.”

It seems more and more grandparents in Lawrence share their joys and struggles in raising their grandchildren.

“I know that we have a lot more grandparents involved now than we have previously,” said Susan Gile, a social service supervisor for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

The trend gained attention last week when Charles Glover Sr. died in a house fire in East Lawrence, along with four of his grandchildren who lived with him. Glover and his wife, Learlean, had custody of all of them.

As more seniors take a role in raising a much younger generation, more services have emerged to assist them. Kathryn Newman attends a monthly support group the first Sunday of the month at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 2700 Lawrence Ave.

“If you have a bad month, there’s always someone there who’s been through what you’re going through,” she said.

Beyond moral support, second-time parents can also receive financial aid through a new state program that starts in January. “What it’s going to do is provide a stipend for grandparents who have taken legal custody of their grandchildren,” said SRS Special Projects Manager Michelle Ponce.

Called Grandparents as Caregivers, the program offers people older than 50 and living with at least one grandchild between $200 and $600 a month if they qualify. The grandparents must be the primary caregivers, with income less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family like the Newmans with two grandparents and one grandchild, that’s less than $17,160 a year. They can access $200 a month for one grandchild, $400 for two and $600 for three or more.

“Grandparents are typically a little bit older, and there are some financial challenges,” Gile said. “Sometimes they are no longer working, and they’re living off of some retirement, so funds are limited. That can be a challenge.”

Gile said when grandparents step in, they often keep the grandkids out of foster care where they would be wards of the state.

“Substance abuse among parents, mental illness among parents, physical disabilities and then general abuse and neglect issues with the parents are some of the reasons the grandparents step forward,” Gile said.

Despite the challenges, the Newmans said parenting is more fun the second time around.