MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- About one in 27 Minnesota schoolchildren come home to households headed by their grandparents or other relatives who aren't their parents, according to a report released Monday.
But that number is minuscule compared with other states, and less than half the national average, according to the report by the Children's Defense Fund, AARP and several other groups.
Nationally, about one in 12 children under age 18 live in households headed by relatives who are not their parents. The information comes from the 2000 census.
"These grandparents -- people who probably thought they were finished with child-rearing -- typically need a lot of support in this new role," said Minh Ta, public policy director for the Children's Defense Fund in Minnesota.
"But we don't know enough about them to know how state and federal policies need to be changed or services need to be tailored to help them," he said. "The first thing is to get the data, and this report is a start."
The census indicates that 17,682 Minnesota grandparents or other relatives are caring for 47,679 children.
More statistics will be available from the next wave of census data, due late this year or early in 2003, officials said.
One who is seeking more information is Priscilla Gibson, who teaches social work at the University of Minnesota. She has embarked on a study of 120 grandparents or other non-parent caregivers age 60 and older.
"So many grandparents in this situation are fearful of asking for help, worried that the county might take away the children," she said. "Many of them simply don't know where to get help, and are afraid of what might happen if they ask."
Some help is available -- "not enough yet, but some programs that can help with health insurance, financial support, legal advice and other things," said Sharon Durken, outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association. Her group is funding Gibson's study.
Grandparents assume parenting roles for many reasons, Durken said.
"There can be substance abuse, mental or physical illness, death, abuse, divorce, domestic violence, poverty or any number of crises that arise," she said.
By one estimate, the number of Minnesota children in this situation actually is closer to 71,000, she said, because it is believed that only about two-thirds of cases are reported.
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