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Sociology and Criminology & Law

Julia Arroyo

Degrees Earned and From Where:

  • B.A. Sociology, Bowling Green State University
  • M.A. Sociology, University of Florida

Research  and Teaching Interests:

  • Children and Youth
  • Families
  • Race and Ethnicity

Dissertation Title: 

  • Raising Grandchildren: Navigating Paths, Mitigating Costs, and Managing Presence

Dissertation Abstract:

  • At any given time, about 2% of children in the United States reside in a household with grandparents and no coresiding biological parents, commonly labeled as grandparents raising grandchildren (Dunifon, Ziol‐Guest, and Kopko, 2014). Evidence shows that most households in which grandparents raise grandchildren come about through a transition in household membership (i.e., a parent, child, or grandchild enters or exits a household), and that further household transitions beyond the initial one are common (Pilkauskas & Dunifon, 2015). In other words, grandparents don’t often have primary care responsibilities for their grandchildren at their birth, and they don’t always retain primary care responsibilities upon assuming them. Yet, little research asks how grandparents raising grandchildren care arrangements come about or how they dissolve once they do. Given the relevance of these care pathways for caregiver and child well-being, I set out to address this gap. To do so, I gathered two types of data. For several months, I observed interactions among grandparents and practitioners at organizations which provide services and supports to current and prospective relative caregivers (predominantly grandparents). In addition, I interviewed 20 grandmothers who were raising or who had raised grandchildren in Central Florida. Using interpretive analytic techniques, I find that the evolution and dissolution of grandparents raising grandchildren care arrangements is driven by grandmothers’ negotiations in their formal and informal networks. Further, grandchildren’s biological parents hold symbolic and, in most cases, legal power, making them key stakeholders in care negotiations. As such, grandmothers’ ability to negotiate parental authority with grandchildren’s parents and parent-facing systems largely sets the tempo of care transitions. Given this, entrances into raising grandchildren can be more or less extended and exits can be prompted despite grandmothers’ perceptions that this is not in grandchildren’s best interest. In some cases, grandmothers negotiate cooperatively with grandchildren’s parents and provide temporary care while parents manage adversities or fulfill conflicting responsibilities. In other cases, grandmothers slide into primary care without explicit negotiations, only coming to realize they are raising grandchildren after they have been doing so for quite some time. In many cases, grandmothers enter into primary care over an extended period during which they come to perceive grandchildren to be at risk of harm while in parents’ care, but are unsuccessful in negotiating with grandchildren’s parents to assume care. On this pathway, many grandmothers attempt to activate a child protective system response, but find that the system’s child safety standards and care strategies are misaligned with their own. Across pathways, when grandmothers’ fail to acquire or maintain parental authority through informal or formal negotiations, care entrances are tenuous and care arrangements remain open to undesired churning and dissolution. Despite feeling considerable strain, many grandmothers develop strategies to protect grandchildren’s well-being in the context of extended entrances, repeated care transitions, and abrupt dissolutions. These findings provide an in-depth portrait of grandmothers’ diverse pathways into and out of raising grandchildren and point to a need to move beyond using household membership status to proxy the accomplishment of family care and understand its impacts. Future research should examine the impact of care pathways on individual and family well-being in the context of grandparents raising grandchildren.