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While blended families are the most common type of family unit, another interesting trend is developing. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly three million children are being reared in homes headed by grandparents.

According to a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill research study published earlier this year, grandparent-headed households increased by 26.1 percent between 2001 and 2010. Reviewing data from the National Board of Labor, Internal Revenue Service, and Census Bureau, the UNC report attributes this trend to a number of factors like the economy, family dissolutions, and out-of-wedlock births.

Sometimes grandparents step into the parental role because of challenges facing the biological parents including financial hardships, illness, or other dire circumstances. Other times, child neglect or abuse convictions against a parent may result in grandparents gaining custody of their grandchildren.

Generally speaking, grandparents do not have specific rights to parent or visit with their grandchildren based on their grandparent status. The ability of a grandparent to have access to their grandchildren is usually dependent on the willingness of the child’s parents to allow access. Court proceedings, however, may alter grandparents’ rights, in certain circumstances granting the grandparents visitation or temporary or permanent custody.

The implications of this trend are far-reaching. Grandparents are pressing for more legal rights over their grandchildren. In Kansas, Senate Bill 52, sponsored by Wichita Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, seeks to make grandparents automatic parties in social services- or state agency-related matters. Just last year, Ohio State Senator Kirk Schuring, a champion for grandparents’ visitation rights, proposed that grandparents be given more statutory rights.

As cultural, economic, and social change continues, the face of families will continue to shift. The rights, or lack of rights, of those truly caring for America’s youth, should be carefully considered.

Source: Census: In recession, more grandparents raising grandkids