Method: Using state administrative records, a sample of 140 grandparents in three Illinois study areas was randomly selected from the population receiving subsidies. A survey designed by the investigators and state program experts then was administered using telephone and in-person interviews.
Open-ended questions explored grandparent perspectives concerning care motivations and experiences. These responses were thematically coded by two investigators to increase coding reliability, and then were quantified and analyzed using multiple response procedures. Closed questions focused on caregiver characteristics, caregiving patterns, and training and resource issues; corresponding analysis primarily employed descriptive statistics to develop caregiving profiles.
Findings: Nearly all respondents were female (97.9%), with a mean age of 53.0 reflecting large numbers of relatively young grandparents. Only 35.7% percent were married or living with partners, and 28.6% percent resided with the family for which they provided care.
Nearly two-thirds (64.3%) had annual incomes of less than $20,000. Child care earnings averaged only $456.50 per month; yet care hours most often approximated full-time work (32.5 hour per week mean), suggesting large amounts of uncompensated care. Over four-fifths (81.4%) cared for children during the nontraditional night and weekend hours when child care centers are closed.
Caregiving motives centered on helping grandchildren and adult family members, as opposed to economic reasons. The most positive caregiving responses similarly stressed building relationships and spending time with grandchildren (38.6%) and helping out adult children (14.4%). In contrast, less than half noted any caregiving problems; not knowing how to educate or get along with the child was the greatest difficulty (24.4%).
Only 20.1% had received child care training in the last year, but grandparents had long histories of providing paid care (10.5 years mean). About two-fifths (39.6%) expressed interest in training if it was tied to higher subsidy reimbursements. However, classroom approaches were considered less desirable than approaches such as videotapes (69.9% of those with training interest), books (71.5%), and newsletters (66.0%). Grandparents also frequently pointed to resources that would improve their care provision, including resources to help children learn (32.9%).
Conclusions and Implications. Our findings suggest an altruistically motivated caregiving population that provides critical levels of nontraditional hour care, and we argue that public funding for these caregivers should be strengthened. Grandparent caregivers appear fairly receptive to training and resource supports, so we offer strategies for providing assistance both to ease physical and emotional caregiving burdens and to enhance care quality. Approaches to providing training and resources outside of classroom settings merit particular attention, as does research to evaluate the effectiveness of such alternative delivery methods.