Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Growing Trend in PA, Committee Learns
HARRISBURG – Nearly 200,000 children in Pennsylvania live with their grandparents, and more than 88,000 youth are being raised by them, and the House Children and Youth Committee held a hearing on Wednesday to learn about the challenges faced by this growing group and efforts to help them, said Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks/144th), chairman of the committee.

“The number of grandparents raising grandchildren has increased dramatically, and the statistics we have may not even accurately reflect how many children are raised by their grandparents,” said Watson. “Many grandparents are struggling; they may not know about state resources to help them or are reluctant to enter into the formal child welfare system, where they can access these services. They may be embarrassed at their situation or afraid their grandchildren may be taken away. This hearing is designed to raise awareness of this growing situation and try and help these tremendously valuable caregivers.”

Research has shown that keeping children with family when they are unable to remain with a parent is best for their physical, emotional and mental well-being. This reduces the trauma the children experience and helps them develop better bonds with those around them. Children thrive in these families because they provide stability and permanence.

Pennsylvania grandparents are saving the state an estimated $22 million a year by keeping their grandchildren out of the foster care system, but that figure may be even higher because many of these “grandfamilies” are not on the state’s radar.

Lotte Powell from Honesdale, Wayne County, shared her personal story caring for her young granddaughter and the struggles she and her husband have faced in dealing with two different states’ regulations and programs. Assistance programs are based on a family’s income rather than the needs of the child, little to no support is available outside foster care placements, legal issues surround parental rights even when a parent isn’t involved, and community challenges exist among child welfare agencies.

Families are asking for a hand up, rather than a hand out, Powell noted, adding that this group potentially becomes the next demographic for poverty. Many grandparents have paid off their homes and may be debt-free, or live on fixed incomes as retirees, but are financially challenged in terms of raising a second family.

Other testimony was provided by Brian Bornman, executive director, PA Children and Youth Administrators; Cathy Utz, deputy secretary, Office of Children, Youth and Families, Department of Human Services; Suzann Morris, deputy secretary, Office of Child Development and Early Learning, Department of Human Services; and Rep. Eddie Pashinski (D-Luzerne), sponsor of related legislation.

Pennsylvania has started a concerted effort to increase levels of kinship care, and that percentage of children placed in kinship care has been steadily increasing over the past decade. However, challenges exist in ensuring that grandparents can access programs and services, whether through something as simple as evening hours, greater public education efforts, more coordination among state and county agencies, or an extension of services.

Testifiers agreed that the number of grandfamilies will continue to grow, as evidenced by the opioid and heroin epidemic -- parents dying from overdoses, incarcerated for related crimes or unable to physically care for their children. In 2014, one-third of children were removed from homes due to parental alcohol and substance abuse.

“Today’s hearing highlighted a number of the challenges faced by grandparents who take on the daunting task of raising their grandchildren,” Watson said. “We were fortunate to hear from those on the front lines of the issue, whether by being a grandparent or working within the child welfare system. This is a growing trend in Pennsylvania and throughout the country. I commend these grandparents for taking on this reprised role in their lives, and hope we can do something that will allow them to better care for their grandchildren.”

To view the hearing in its entirety, visit, and click on the “VIDEO” link and “LONGER OR SPECIAL PROGRAMS” section.

Representative Kathy Watson
144th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton
717.705.2094 /

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