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Study Looks at Baltimore-Area Women Raising Grandchildren

12 January 2012 No Comment

The national Project COPE will enroll more than 500 grandmothers.


About 2.5 million people in the United States are raising grandchildren under age 18 who live with them, according to U.S. census data. To learn the best ways for grandparents to deal with the challenge, the School of Social Work is recruiting participants for a four-year study called Project COPE (Caring for Others as a Positive Experience). The project is funded by a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Nursing Research to the School and to collaborators in Ohio, Texas, and California.  

Providing shelter, food, and clothing, and meeting grandchildren’s other needs, is a tough task, according to Frederick Strieder, PhD, clinical associate professor at the School and director of Grandparent Family Connections, a nonprofit organization at the School of Social Work that helps Baltimore residents who find themselves carrying out parental roles under difficult and often unexpected circumstances. Strieder, who says some great-grandparents in their 70s and 80s are raising infants, is the University’s principal investigator for Project COPE, which will enroll women who have custodial responsibility for grandchildren between the ages of 4 and 12, in the total absence of the birth parents.  

“It’s not like raising your own from the beginning,” he says. “Based on the children’s experiences, you have to undo and redo important basics in relating.”

Children raised by grandparents have often been neglected or undergone trauma, or have come into an elder’s care because of a parent’s death, illness, or incarceration. “All these reasons are why grandparents step up,” Strieder says. “Across demographic groups, the challenge they face is the same.” 

Nationally, a third of these grandparents are above age 60, and 13 percent are younger than 45. Financial and other pressures are greatest for those living in poverty.

The national Project COPE study, which will enroll more than 500 grandmothers, is led by principal investigators Greg Smith, EdD, MS, professor at Kent State University, and Bert Hayslip, PhD, professor at the University of North Texas. 

In Maryland, 126 grandmothers are being recruited in Baltimore, Baltimore County, Prince George’s County, and surrounding areas, according to Patricia Greenberg, MA, research project coordinator at the School of Social Work. They will meet in small groups for 10 weeks at convenient neighborhood locations, with child care and a meal provided at no charge. Each group will be led by a peer grandparent and a group leader who have been trained as facilitators. 

The grandmothers will be assigned to one of three interventions: learning coping skills, obtaining new and improving old parenting skills, or participating in a support group with peers. The women and some of their grandchildren (one per grandmother) will be interviewed before and after the sessions and over a period of up to two years afterward. The women will be compensated for participating in the interviews. 

For more information on the study, visit www.ssw.umaryland.edu/cope.

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