Despite the large number of grandparents raising their grandchildren in York County, few local resources are available to them.
When Linda Warfel, 64, took in her three grandsons after her daughter abandoned them more than a year ago, she had to search for answers on her own.
She didn't know whom to ask about medical rights for the boys or how to get financial assistance to buy groceries as she and her husband struggled to cover the costs. Her husband, Perry, has put off early retirement and stayed in the workforce to support the boys.
But ultimately, Linda said she could have just used someone else in her situation to talk to. When she raised her granddaughter Kaitlin 20 years ago, she attended a support group in North York. Today, there are no support groups.
"It was nice meeting people that had the same problems," Warfel said.
Last year, 2,728 grandparents reported they were raising their grandchildren in
York County according to 2010 U.S. Census-based American Community Survey.
The reasons: Parental death and incarceration are the two major reasons grandparents step in, said Vicki Delellis, a family support group coordinator for Family Support of Central Pennsylvania. Her groups meet in Harrisburg and Newport, Perry County.
Twice a month, Delellis facilitates the groups for parents, including grandparents who have sole custody of their grandchildren. She called the meetings "lifelines" and said the grandparents rely on each other for encouragement.
"They're not angry with the situation; they're not angry with the children. It's the fact that they've raised their own kids. It should be fun to be the grandparent," Delellis said. "Grandparents are finding themselves in the disciplinary role. I've seen that changing role."
Locally: The closest resource for York grandparents is Parent-Child Home program, near Hanover, which pairs trained caregivers with the grandparents to teach them how to engage the grandchildren.
The service is free, but state funding cuts will end it, director Shelley Panebaker said.
This year, the group could only assist 43 families, down from 50 in 2009; next year the program is completely wiped out.
"The sooner you work with (kids), the sooner they're learning," she said. "When you're working with grandparents, they weren't raised taking child development in high school. What we knew then is a lot different than what we know now."
Help in future: In 2008, The York County Area Agency on Aging launched a four-year plan of services it would support.
At that time, the department had grandparents on its radar, but not like they are now.
"When you look at the numbers, it's skyrocketing," said Beth Kehler, public relations director for the agency. "We'll be looking at those numbers for our next four-year plan."
Kehler said the agency receives three or four phone calls a month from grandparents who are looking for legal assistance, typically related to visitation rights.
Although her department only serves those 65 and older, she said workers are instructed to direct grandparents to free legal services regardless of age, Kehler said.
The agency has also noted an increase in the number of grandparents who may not be the sole caregivers, but are playing a support role, Kehler said.
In light of both trends, Kehler said she would like to put together a phone directory grandparents can call for help with a variety of issues.
The agency has pledged to partner with the York County Children, Youth and Families office to find ways to serve those grandparents.
-- Reach Amanda Dolasinski at 505-5437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.