The tradition of grandparents raising their grandchildren is nothing new, but what caught the attention of CBS 6 reporter Reba Hollingsworth was the sheer number of grandparents who are doing it. Whatever the family circumstances, they are frequently called upon to provide stability and security for their grandchildren.
Linda and Phillip Sharp are spending their retirement years raising their three grandchildren, ages 10, 8 and 7, all boys. Now after a hiatus of several decades, the Chesterfield couple has discovered homework again. There's also more laundry and cooking.
"Cooking, cooking, cooking. That's what I usually be doing," said Linda.
The Sharps got custody of the three boys when they say their own daughter didn't "step up."
"She really wasn't ready to be a parent. There's been one or two times where we didn't know where she may have been exactly," said Phillip. "Then you're worrying about how the child is doing, what are they're doing, who's taking care of them," said Linda.
The Sharps are part of a new kind of family that's popping up just about everywhere. According to the 2010 U.S Census, 2.7 million grandparents are raising their own grandchildren. That's an increase of more than 300,000 from ten years ago.
In Virginia, close to 70,000 are taking on that job. In 2000, it was less than 60,000.
"It's happening more for all sorts of reasons," said Debbie Leidheiser, Chesterfield Senior Advocate. Leidheiser runs Chesterfield County's support group for grandparents who are raising their own grandchildren. The group is one of a handful operating in the Commonwealth and one of two in Central Virginia.
"I was getting more and more calls in the office from grandparents. I think it gives them an outlet to know they are not alone," said Leidheiser.
CBS 6 sat in on one of these support group meetings. The Sharps come every month. Across the hall, their grandkids are playing or doing their homework. These older parents open up to us about how they've taken in their grandchildren when no else could.
"He is the son of my daughter who lost her life in an automobile accident," said Betty Ford, who is now raising her grandson.
Carolyn Richardson is raising two grandchildren. "My son in-law died in May who was the children's father, [and] my daughter took some wrong directions," said Richardson.
Then there's 68-year-old Margaret Hatcher. She was the last to tell us her story, but she was the first to say that she's drowning. Raising both a five and seven-year-old is taking its toll on her.
"I raised my kids, my grandson and now I'm raising my great-grandchildren. The kids aren't frustrating. It's not getting the help that's frustrating. I get $127 per month, per child. No food stamps. Nothing," said Hatcher.
Margaret says she still has to work full-time to stay afloat. Vietnam Veteran Henry Mack knows how she feels. He's raising his 9-year-old granddaughter.
"When you look for social assistance, it almost takes an act of Congress to receive those services and benefits," said Mack.
Public assistance is out there. There are about a half-dozen government programs from food stamps to temporary relief, but you have to qualify to get it and a lot of it depends on income. The Sharps get about $320 dollars per month in assistance along with Phillip's pension, but the couple says it's not enough. Phillip's been in and out of retirement four times to help pay the bills.
"A lot of people don't realize when you get ready to retire, you're more a less on a fixed income," said Phillip.
When it comes to financially helping out these older parents, Virginia is like most states. Applying for public assistance is the only way to get it.
At home, though, there are also the joys of family. "They'll tell people that's my mommy and daddy," said Linda Sharp. "It makes me feel good."
The Sharps are passionate about helping out other grandparents. They're looking to start a non-profit group with the help of their church. As for the support group, it's not just for grandparents living in Chesterfield. It is open to grandparents who live in the city and other counties.
To learn more about the Chesterfield support group for grandparents raising their grandchildren, check out the link below or call Debbie Leidheiser at 804-768-7878.
If you want to know more about the programs to help grandparents offered by the Virginia Department of Social Services, click the link: https://jupiter.dss.state.va.us/EligibilityScreening/