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Raising Grandchildren: Health

What you should know to ensure your grandkids' physical and mental well-being

As a grandparent caring for a grandchild, you may have to deal with health issues. This information will help you.

See also: GrandFamilies Resources.

Do I need legal papers to get medical care for my grandchildren?

If you do not have legal guardianship or custody of your grandchildren, you may have trouble getting medical or dental care for them. The laws about "medical consent" vary from state to state. Ask your doctor, clinic or a lawyer what the rules are in your state. Or you can check the GrandFacts state fact sheets to see what medical consent laws may apply. Sometimes you can sign a legal affidavit saying you are caring for the child, or a parent can sign a special form. If you are unable to reach the parent, you may need to prove that you have tried to find the parents before you can make medical decisions for a child.

How can I get health insurance for my grandchildren?

If your grandchildren don't have health insurance, find out if your employer will allow you to add them to your policy. If not, find out if they qualify for your state's free or low cost Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or the federal Medicaid program. Both of these programs vary from state to state, but most insure children and teens up to age 19 for health care, medicines and hospital visits. The Early Periodic Diagnosis, Screening and Treatment (EPDST) program is part of Medicaid, and offers well-baby visits with normal screening, tests and treatments that children would get if they went to a doctor for regular visits.

In most states you do not need to have legal guardianship of your grandchildren to apply for health insurance for them. But, a few states will count your income when they decide if your grandchildren qualify. To find out if your grandchildren may be eligible for CHIP or Medicaid and apply you can:

  • Go to Benefits QuickLINK and answer a list of questions. You'll get a report that tells you what programs the child is eligible for, and links to the forms to apply. If you can't get to a computer, call 888-GRAND-18 and ask for a referral to someone who can help you with a Benefits QuickLINK screening.
  • Talk with a local social worker, clinic or doctors office to ask about applying for CHIP or Medicaid.
  • Visit the Insure Kids Now website or call toll-free at 877-KIDS-NOW for more information and links to your state CHIP and Medicaid programs.

What if I can't afford nutritious, well-balanced meals for my grandchildren?

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program helps women, infants and children up to age 5 who have low incomes and may not be able to eat well. The program has food, health care referrals, and nutrition education for pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women. Contact your state or local WIC agency to apply for help. WIC may also help if you have a daughter or granddaughter who is pregnant.

The federal government has many programs to help with the nutrition needs of children and families with lower incomes, including the food stamp program, school meal program, summer food service program, child and adult care food program, and food distribution programs. Talk with your grandchildren's school about the school meal programs, and ask your local social service agency about the other nutrition programs. You can also visit to find out more about these programs.

How can I help my grandchildren with behavioral and mental health issues?

Many children being raised by relatives have been through a lot of stress. Your grandchildren may have been abused or neglected. If their parents have mental health issues, they may be more likely to have the same or similar problems as well.

Ask your grandchildren's social worker or school counselor if they can offer therapy or counseling for them. Also talk to your pediatrician about any mental health issues as well, and see if there are any psychological tests your grandchildren should get. Medication is sometimes prescribed for certain mental health disorders. Be sure to find out if your grandchildren qualify for any public benefits to help with medical or mental health care or support for disabilities. The finance section of GrandFamlies Resources has more information on finding public benefits.

Next: Education and Child Care. »