Defining the Grandma Effect

"I was a foster parent for 10 years, and I also had adopted children, so I'm not against foster parents," said Owens, "We're asking please don't put them in state custody; please save those foster homes for kids who have no family."

Yet, doctors and child advocates needed some convincing. Rubin said many questioned whether a person who raised an adult who had enough emotional troubles to lose a child to social services would be capable of raising a grandchild properly.

To study this, Rubin reviewed the emotional, physical and mental well-being of 1,309 U.S. children who were removed from their home by social services.

"At the time that I did the study, to be honest with you, I didn't know what I would find," said Rubin. "But we found that it really was way, way better, than children who went into non-relative foster care."

The study, which appeared this June in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, found children who were living with relatives had a 12 percent lower risk of behavioral problems than children who lived in foster care.

Not All Situations Ideal

Yet, Rubin said data shows both children in foster care and permanently in their grandparents care are more likely to have problems than children living at home with both parents.

"It is true that many children happen to be in the care of grandparents do have problems," said Bert Hayslip, a professor of psychology at the University of North Texas at Denton.

"The problem is explicating its origin: none of the reasons grandparents take on the care of the grandchildren is good," said Hayslip, who studies grandparents who take care of their grandchildren. Most often death, imprisonment, sickness, or mental health issues land children into grandparents' care.

"You get the whole family environment that has been disrupted," said Hayslip.

Hayslip, who has written several books on the subject, has still found an improvement for the at-risk children if they are cared for by their grandparents rather than strangers.

Improved school performance, less reliance on welfare later on, and fewer "deviant" behaviors are all associated with grandmothers and grandparents care, according to Hayslip's research.

Yet for all the benefits grandparents can give to children who need care, it has only been in the last year that legislators have begun to address the issue.

"There were adoption benefits for foster parents who adopted, but not for kin," explained Rubin.

This October, Congress passed The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. The law offers states money to assist relatives who take over care for children taken into social services.

Mary Lee Allen, director of Child Welfare and Mental Health at The Children's Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., said she continues to see need for this law.

Allen said she was struck watching what happened in Nebraska with the so-called safe haven law, where now 26 older children and teenagers have been abandoned at hospitals.

"There were a significant number of relatives who were coming forward with older children," said Allen. "Sometimes children are dumped with relatives without the relatives getting the support that they need."

According to Hayslip, grandparents caring for their grandchildren face significant financial burdens, generation gaps dealing with gender issues and dating, poor health and sometimes depression.

"What amazes me is that many of them manage to carry it off," said Hayslip. "Resilience is the piece of the puzzle that enables some to do well and transcend all of this stuff, and raise grandchildren who are happy and healthy."

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