About a year ago, Wareen Mulgraw of Middletown, Kentucky received reports that her grandson had been neglected by her daughter, who struggled with addiction and mental illness. The courts gave the mother a year to regain stability and Wareen temporary custody of her grandson. Now that year is up, but Wareen’s daughter continues to struggle. At the end of the month, the family will attend a hearing that will give Wareen full custody of her 3 ½ year-old grandson.
As a single grandmother, Wareen struggles financially to provide for the child, often dipping into retirement funds to pay for child care. At first, Wareen collected assistance through the Kentucky Temporary Assistance Program (KTAP), but the $189 per month check would not cover their expenses. She chose to regain employment as a full-time hairdresser, forfeiting KTAP assistance. She hoped her income and child support checks would alleviate financial burdens, but then child support checks came sporadically and Wareen was forced to take legal action against her grandson’s father. With $800 a month to pay in child care every day is another struggle.
Recently, another obstacle surfaced when Wareen’s grandson’s medical card expired. She is now concerned that she may have to provide health insurance for her grandson because she is employed. Wareen spent the last few weeks seeking guidance on health care options and was even placed on hold for an hour at one point. She applied for Medicaid and is awaiting approval, but in the meantime she prays her grandson will maintain his health. Fortunately, Wareen’s grandson does fare well in her care. He remains in the same child care center he began at 6 weeks of age and is healthy and happy, according to Wareen.
At such a young age, Wareen’s grandson is unaware of his circumstances, but Wareen knows he will begin questioning things soon and that she will need support. She expresses the need for local support groups like many grandparents in Kentucky. For example, she hopes to have a support system for her grandson as he reaches developmental milestones like the teenage years. Studies show trauma exposed children often have behavioral issues and fall into lifestyles of crime and drug addiction.1 “We should be helping other children in these situations understand they’re not different from anybody,” she says.
Without any support groups or family nearby, Wareen relies on friendships and work to help her balance the daily stress. In a University of Kentucky study on grandparents raising grandchildren exposed to trauma, it was reported that grandparents have higher levels of stress, lower mental health scores, and poorer physical health conditions.2 Most grandparents like Wareen express concern about their own health. They especially fear not having arrangements set for their grandchildren should anything serious, like a fatal illness, happen. Wareen suggests having some type of legal aid at support group meetings to help understand how to prepare for those possible occurrences.
Wareen has had a grasp on her situation the past year, but knows more challenges are to come. She hopes the right support will allow her to enjoy her senior years while caring for her grandson. In the meantime, she keeps composure and tries to stay strong. “We don’t have choices in life,” says Wareen. “It’s all in the attitude.”
By Emely Ortiz-Vega
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