As a grandparent, raising your grandchildren can be a rewarding but challenging experience. Add an international pandemic on top of that, and it becomes even harder to navigate.
This is where Dr. Carole Cox comes in. For 12 years, Cox ran a program at Fordham GSS designed to empower grandparents who found themselves in the position of raising grandchildren. The program won multiple awards, received grant funding, and even had its curriculum translated into Russian and Spanish.
Now, older adults raising grandchildren are in an even trickier situation. They are the ones most at-risk to the effects of the virus. They are the ones who often need to be looked after and protected. But they still have that obligation to those they love.
And so, through the New York Department for the Aging, Cox will now offer her trainings virtually through her “Empowerment Workshop Series.” Starting this month, Cox will facilitate seven workshops – each 60 minutes long — providing essential communication techniques and vital resources for strengthening the parenting skills of grandparent caregivers.
She wants to empower those who need it.
“The grandparents take the kids, and they want to do the best they can,” Cox said. “So, we are going to help them virtually.’”
From Policy to Aging
Cox wasn’t always involved with grandparents. However, after working with families with dementia-patient relatives in Washington D.C., she moved to New York and became involved with grandparents who were raising their grandchildren alone.
“I learned about how many grandparents in the five boroughs are responsible for caring for their grandkids,” she said.
She then began meeting with a support group, whose goals were to help those grandparents in the community. That’s when the empowerment workshop came about. Cox submitted a grant for the project to the New York Community Trust (NYCT) for funding, and what they got back surprised them.
“They [the NYCT]came in for a site visit, and ended up doubling what we asked for,” she said. “It funded the program for three years.”
So, backed by the NYCT – and some other formidable GSS names, such as Mary Ann Quaranta and Dean Jim Dumpson – the trainings began. Some of the main focus points were how grandparents can talk and listen to their grandchildren, and helping their grandkids cope with some of the grief and loss they see throughout the family.
But the skills these older adults learned didn’t end at home. The results actually expanded into their communities.
“As they become empowered in their families,” Cox said, “they feel better about themselves, and they take on more roles within the community.”
New Difficulties During COVID-19
COVID-19 has brought adversity to so many, and grandparents raising their grandchildren are no exception. Cox noted that grandparents living in the same house as their adolescent grandkids face a particular challenge: cabin fever. Many teenagers, being stuck in the house for months, are especially irritable and listless, wanting to revisit “normal” by socializing with their friends. However, this puts their grandparents at incredible risk.
“The kids have been in the house for a long time,” Cox said. “You get teenagers who want to go out and have older grandparents raising them – there’s so much risk.”
So, Cox is making the trainings especially relevant for the times, with information on how to navigate these nuanced dilemmas. And throughout the 10-month empowerment series, she will evaluate the results for impacts and changes, adapting to what the data says the trainings need.
Obviously, not just the content of the series has changed, but the format as well. Cox will conduct the trainings via Zoom, much like GSS classes this semester. However, Cox believes this actually increases the accessibility of the program and its information.
“It’s more accessible because now the grandparents can do it from their own home – which is great, since they have the kids to look after,” she said. “And the trainings will be shorter than in year’s past — an hour long as opposed to three hours.”
“We’re excited to take it online,” Cox said. “The City is excited, and the grandparents are excited. In two weeks we have had more than 70 people register!”
That excitement shows in the continued success of the program, and the advocacy put forward into the community by those who pass through it.
“If you can believe it,” Cox laughed, “some of the grandparents I trained 15 years ago are still advocates in The City and in their communities. It’s really incredible.”