BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — Caring for their grandchildren on a daily basis was not how Frank and Dot envisioned spending their golden years.
Having raised their own children, the Lebanon, N.J., couple, who declined to give their last name, planned to retire to Florida. Instead, like a growing number of grandparents, they have stepped in to help raise their grandchildren.
And according to Frank, he "wouldn't have it any other way."
According to 2010 U.S. Census data, 4.9 million American children are being raised solely by their grandparents. The number is almost double that of the 2000 Census -- 2.4 million.
The Garden State is no exception to this trend.
Brenda O'Shea, family child care manager at Northwest New Jersey Community Action Partnership Child and Family Resource Services, said 180,227 children in New Jersey live with a grandparent or other relative as a head of household.
"That is 8.8 percent of children in the state," she said.
A nonprofit community action agency established in 1965, NORWESCAP works to create opportunities and provide self-sufficiency and emergency services for more than 30,000 low-income people.
"There has also been an increase in the number of grandparents who have financial responsibilities for their grandchildren," according to Sharon Giacchino, program director at NORWESCAP. "We are seeing an increase in grandparents as a alternate type of child care. It is not spiking, but has been a steady climb over the years."
Many times situations arise where a child can no longer safely reside with their biological parent or legal guardian. Mary Jane Di Paolo, assistant director of Community Child Care Solutions, said the state's Department of Child and Families first looks for relatives and family friends who may be familiar to the child to provide care.
"Grandparents provide similar family values that the parent was raised with. This could be a comfort to both the parent and child," she said.
Di Paolo said there has been an increase in placements with grandparents, and that "more grandparents than ever before are willing to take their grandchildren."
Giacchino said the increase in grandparents as caregivers is a also a reflection of the economy.
"Either because of divorce, widowed, separated, for some reason it doesn't work out and grandparents step in as caregivers for the grandchildren," Giacchino said. "Even in households where the parents are together but both work, grandparents have become caregivers."
O'Shea says she sees the trend daily on her way to work.
"I've noticed more and more grandparents waiting at the school bus stop with children," O'Shea said. "And I've seen countless grandparents pushing strollers."
The Lebanon couple, Frank, 77, and Dot, 73, fall into the co-parenting category. Almost seven years ago, his grandchildren's mother moved to Florida, leaving the children and their father. Frank and his wife stepped in to help their son raise the three children, now 9, 10 and 16.
"It is not what we had planned, but we stepped in and have no regrets whatsoever," Frank said. "Some may be bitter in this situation, but I wouldn't change it -- not a thing. They are a joy."
Frank said his son works full-time as a plumber. Daily, Frank and his wife pick up the younger two children after school, bringing them to their home in Lebanon. During the summer, the children live with their grandparents. Always involved in the children's lives, Dot previously babysat the children from the time the eldest was 3. Both parents worked full-time, Frank said.
The couple are an integral part of their grandchildren's lives, attending school and extra-curricular activities as well as seeing them on a daily basis. They also plan activities, such as movies and pool time, to keep the kids busy in the summer.
While Frank said the challenges of raising kids aren't much different from when he and his wife raised their own children, he is aware of the emotional trauma his grandchildren could experience because of their parent's situation.
"They are well-balanced children in spite of what they have been through," Frank said. "They are good kids."
According to the official government Web portal usa.gov, an increasing number of births to unmarried teen mothers, a high divorce rate and epidemics of HIV/AIDS, fetal alcohol syndrome and illegal drug use (especially methamphetamine) leave many children orphaned, or with parents unable to care for them. Other factors can include abuse, homelessness, poverty and health care costs. Grandparents are also living longer and are more physically capable than previous generations.
Giacchino added that in New Jersey, parents in the military also fall under this category, though the parenting role by grandparents may be temporary. Giacchino said she will fall into this category herself because of her Air Force son and daughter-in-law's coming deployments.
"I will have custody when they are deployed," she said. "I have more and more of these as we have a number of military personnel in this area."
O'Shea said subsidies are available for grandparents who register as family caregivers. Training on child care, health and safety needs are also included.
"We have actually seen a great-grandparent providing care," O'Shea said. "In effect, they can get paid for watching their own grandchildren."
(Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY)