Martha Rains and her husband Bill were living the typical lives of grandparents.
They were both employed, busy people who enjoyed seeing their grandchildren whenever schedules aligned. But everything changed one day in 2005 when their daughter was imprisoned.
“The judge said, ‘You need to raise these kids,’” Martha said.
Their whole lives changed in an instant when they became responsible for their three young grandchildren. Grandparents raising grandkids is an increasingly common story in the U.S.
According to 2010 U.S. Census data, almost 7.8 million children under the age of 18 live in homes where the householders are grandparents or other relatives – that’s 10.5% of all children under 18.
Of these, almost 20% live in poverty, AARP reports.
Oklahoma ranks ninth among states with the highest number of grandparents raising children, according to Sunbeam Family Services of Oklahoma City.
For many grandparents raising grandchildren, the responsibility comes about unexpectedly.
Often, the parent is unable to raise their children due to drugs, alcohol, imprisonment or mental illness.
In other cases, the parent is simply very young and not willing or able to take on the responsibilities of parenthood.
Like many grandparents new to raising grandchildren, Martha and Bill had no clue what resources were available or where to turn.
“They don’t send you any kind of handbook when they say, ‘Take these children,’” said Martha Rains.
The Rains were both busy working fulltime jobs, and they weren’t in a position where they could quit working.
“We didn’t get any money for taking care of them,” Martha said.
One of Martha’s greatest resources came through Sandie Sullivan with Ability Resources.
Sullivan has a wealth of information about grandparents raising grandchildren, Martha said.
Sullivan directed Martha and Bill on how to enroll the kids in daycare covered by the state, and how to sign them up for SoonerCare insurance.
Another hurdle was officially obtaining guardianship of the children.
The County Clerk’s Office sent Martha to The Woodland Group/Guardianship Assistance Program in Tulsa, which helped her with paperwork and deadlines.
While Martha and Bill didn’t have access to any sort of handbook, they figured things out over time.
The dynamic of their relationship with their grandchildren transformed as they became an important part of their daily lives.
“It changes your relationship with them tremendously because you become the person who steps in as a parent,” she said.
“You get a closeness that you don’t normally have from seeing them time-to-time.”
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