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Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

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Summary of Work: It is widely known that when parents face challenges that undermine their capacity to care for their children, grandmothers are the primary safety net. In fact, there are more grandparent-headed households (GPHH) today than at any other time in American history. Since 1970, the number of skipped-generation households (SGHH), defined as grandparents assuming full-responsibility for their grandchildren's care in the absence of parents, has increased 77% to approximately 2.4 million. Scholars, policy makers, and service providers have noted that grandparent caregivers are increasingly urban, low-income black grandmothers, despite their own financial insecurity, residence in beleaguered inner-city neighborhoods, frequently impaired physical health, and often single marital status. While African Americans represent 12.5% of the United States population, in 2000 they accounted for 38% of GPHH. African Americans are four and a half times more likely to be custodial grandparents than their White counterparts. Among African American grandparents, those who are the most economically disadvantaged and who have the fewest resources to draw upon are the most likely to be thrust into the primary caretaker role; including those living below the poverty level, without a high school degree, with more functional limitations, and women receiving public assistance. The planned postdoctoral research project synthesizes the Fellow's Ph.D. dissertation findings with projects aimed to explore a number of questions that emerged during the Ph.D. research that beg further investigation. Specifically, (1) how low-income, urban black custodial grandmothers manage child care; (2) the child-rearing experiences and decision-making processes of low-income, urban black mothers whose children are being cared for by grandparents; and (3) which custodial grandmothers engage in what type of stress-denial in the face of obvious hardship, and how this influences their help-seeking behavior, service utilization patterns, and health. Answering these questions allows one to capture the full depth and breadth of contemporary SGHH, especially since these issues are largely missing from extant literature. For instance, it is known that drug addiction, divorce, mental and physical illness, incarceration, joblessness, and homelessness are reasons identified in previous research as contributing to parents' inability to care for their children. However, scholarship that directly addresses how mothers come to voluntarily or involuntarily relinquish care of their children within the context of their personal troubles, family forms and dynamics, child welfare system policies, and available choices, is almost non-existent. Furthermore, while it is understood that lack of child care options can render low-income families' efforts to become self-sufficient and to facilitate the successful development of their children impossible, less is known about the child care experiences and related social processes of low-income, urban Black custodial grandmothers, what their child care needs are and how they achieve them, or how their efforts shape and are shaped by their child care experiences and options. Finally, previous studies consistently report poor health outcomes among caretaking grandmothers, compared to their non-caretaking counterparts. Unfortunately, understanding coping processes that contribute to their and their grandchildren's poor health and to unexplainable racial disparities in health outcomes is vital as more grandmothers are increasingly thrust into the primary caretaking role- has received little attention from scholars in this area.
Intellectual Merit. The aim of this research is to be the first empirical study that provides a comprehensive look at the experiences of low-income, urban black SGHH. This will be accomplished by using in-depth interviews with low-income, urban black caretaking grandmothers; child care agents; and poor and working-class black mothers whose children are being raised by their parents in Chicago. The Fellow will also conduct participant observation sessions in child care settings and in venues where mothers parenting role is salient. Lastly, the Fellow will integrate bio-marker instruments and frameworks into existing methodological approaches to compare the health outcomes, coping processes, and caretaking experiences of low-income black and white caretaking grandmothers.
Broader Impacts. The study's greatest utility is its potential to help inform debates about the intersection of low income families' decision making processes, strategies, and experiences, with local and national child care policies and programs and to develop new ways to address their childrearing, caretaking, and health issues. In instances in which mothers are managing their parental roles or when grandmothers are managing their child care agenda or stressors with negative consequences to their family's economic, educational, and social well-being awareness, increasing availability, and negotiating access to social welfare systems become paramount. This interdisciplinary work is poised to produce useful information about how vulnerable populations lose ground in their struggle to raise their children and the social relations embedded in their efforts. A number of innovative techniques are planned for dissemination of the results and to increase the study's real world impact.

Funding Source
United States Nat'l. Science Fndn.
Project number
Policy and Planning