Social Work Department explores effects of grandparenting through research, workshops

Two recent journal articles about the challenges and opportunities confronting grandparents taking care of grandchildren highlight the passion of Youjung Lee, co-director of the Institute of Multigenerational Studies (IMS) and several Binghamton University co-authors.

Youjung Lee, assistant professor of social work at the College for Community and Public Affairs, photographed near the University Union, Friday, June 15, 2012.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.7 million grandparents have primary caretaker roles for their grandchildren in this country. By definition, children who are being taken care of by their grandparents have experienced a variety of trauma and stress that necessitated the atypical arrangement. Whether the cause is abuse, death, abandonment or incapacitation of the parents, the new nuclear family poses significant opportunities and challenges to all members.

Schools see greater behavior problems among children whose parents have been replaced by grandparents, and the older caretakers are not always prepared – both physically and emotionally – to handle their new charges. There may also be shame associated with admitting that they have “failed” to raise their own children well enough to avoid such a predicament.

But there are also significant benefits to both ends of the spectrum: Children in such circumstances can show amazing resiliency, avoiding the “toxic stress” that often comes with placement outside their immediate family.

Grandparent caregivers also embrace this new “second chance” at childrearing in better ways than they may have done with their own children. Thus, healing and growth can be achieved.

In the words of one grandparent, “I couldn’t imagine not doing it. They’re my life. They’re my reason to get up every day.”

Another said, “I try to give her more love than I did my own children.”

College for Community and Public Affairs assistant professor of

Social workers have critical roles to make these arrangements successful. For example, there are institutional barriers that need to be identified, negotiated or removed. Grandparents may not be aware of social services available to them as caregivers, or they may not (without assistance) gain the proper legal status to adequately represent their grandchildren.

Another role social workers can assume is to steer grandparents toward those educational, psychosocial and health services that do cater to older surrogate parents and help those services work collaboratively.

It is also important to have social work advocacy to promote institutional policies that recognize and alleviate the stresses on grandparents. At the university level, greater emphasis is needed for multi-faceted program that sensitizes and trains graduate students in education, social work and the sciences.

In order to work more collaboratively, to better understand and be responsive to grandparent-headed households, Binghamton University’s IMS sponsored a three-week science camp, a monthly math education program and an interdisciplinary family service project in 2014.

The project was meant to help grandparents better understand their grandchildren’s science and math curriculums so that they could engage with the children in positive ways at home. It was also intended to break some of the hierarchical silos that exist for graduate students to be more effective serving grandparents and their families.

Access the full research article, originally published in the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships.

Visit the Institute for Multigenerational Studies or the Department of Social Work for more information about the community center and the educational program at Binghamton University.

Dr. Denise Yull, CCPA Faculty Member and Community Engaged Scholar

I spoke with Dr. Denise Yull, Assistant Professor of Human Development and newer CCPA faculty member, about how she approached her dissertation and about the wealth of data she collected, along with a sneak peek as to what she is working on now. A graduate of the School of Education, Dr. Yull was one of the professors I had as an undergraduate student whose curriculum and teaching philosophy opened up a new world of critical engagement and understanding for me. In speaking with Dr. Yull about the process of formulating research questions and determining research methodologies she would use in her work, she outlined to me a process where there would be many opportunities to present and aggregate the data collected into post-doctoral publications.

Dr. Yull had four specific research questions, and her dissertation was an undertaking of a significant amount of data collection. Her data collection included vast oral histories gathered in order to answer questions regarding the educational experiences of Black New York State residents across four generations. She collected oral histories from people living in Binghamton, Elmira, Syracuse, and Buffalo. One of the salient findings is that these participants valued education for themselves and their children, but one of the main differences are with regard to the level of education sought after. Those whose families were from the North were content to strive toward completion of the high school credential, whereas those families that emigrated from the South aspired to a higher level of education. Another theme was rural vs. urban sensibilities and differences in the salience of racism based on geographical locations, and that those who were from Binghamton and Elmira had a different sense of racism in the schooling experience than those from Syracuse and Buffalo, larger urban areas. She also discussed the notion of schools as reproducing racism, providing distinct criticisms of the institution of education and how it fails youth of color. A specific quote that stands out is that “black boys never get to be kids because they are always seen as men, who aren’t seen as humans.” Powerful.

This research project and the questions she asked are important because these stories are important. As a result of gathering this data, she has identified an opportunity to publish research on the Millennial generation of youth of color. Dr. Yull discusses her ideas on this as illuminating the experience and comparing it to the traditional discourse associated with the Millennial generation as a whole, noting the disparities among them. This has the potential to be very influential work, work that provides a representative voice and challenges commonly accepted ideas.

Dr. Yull had a strict deadline to finish writing, which was ultimately incredibly helpful, in addition to stressful and daunting. She had a job offer that was contingent upon her completion and successful defense of her dissertation. She had all of her data collected, and large pieces of her dissertation complete, however with vast amounts of qualitative data, she had a significant amount of coding left to do in order to arrive at some of her data driven conclusions, independent of assumptions and the output of essential critical thinking of the researcher. She defended in August of 2012 and then started in her current role with CCPA in September of 2012. Dr. Yull made it a point to tell me to use the data contained within the dissertation and immediately begin the work of extracting and publishing it.

Community engaged scholarship is demonstrated throughout the work undertaken by faculty in the College of Community and Public Affairs. Dr. Yull spoke briefly of the process of being tenure track and what that looks like at the level of collecting relevant experience and information that supports receiving tenure. Specifically, she outlined three key areas of excellence that must be demonstrated: teaching, scholarship, and service. In addition to providing students with a qualitative means of assessment that speaks to her capabilities as a teacher, she also sits on several boards locally, including the Broome County Urban League. These are just as important as maintaining an active research agenda.

Stephanie Malmberg

Doctoral Student, College of Community and Public Affairs at Binghamton University


Binghamton is Human Scale: President Harvey Stenger and Community Systems

President Harvey Stenger visited the College of Community and Public Affair’s Community Systems course recently to discuss his emerging take on collective impact, the university’s role in research within the community, and how Binghamton students can individuate their successes. The doctoral students in the Community Systems course are leaders on our campus and beyond, and a thought-provoking dynamic conversation emerged. President Stenger shared with CCPA doctoral students some of his initial leadership challenges, the rate of growth the university has achieved in a relatively short amount of time, and the related impacts on the local community as a result of two high profile projects, the School of Pharmacy and the Downtown Research Incubator and the benefits available to small business as the result of the Start Up NY initiative. Students in the course had a lot of questions regarding the trajectory of his career and how that has helped him rise to the challenge of leadership.

Some key take-aways from the visit for this author include President Stenger’s notion that Binghamton is human scale. Part of his vision for the role of the institution within the community is through pulling up the economy, you pull people up along with it. This is currently illustrated in the emerging market district in Downtown Binghamton, which began as a result of locating the College of Community and Public Affairs in the heart of downtown in 2007. Since then, a number of student residential developments house hundreds of students in the downtown area, and there has been a significant increase in small businesses that have opened. With the addition of a research facility in downtown, there exists additional opportunity for small business development and investments in existing infrastructure.

Another key take-away from President Stenger’s visit was the idea that as affiliates of the university, whether we are students, staff, or faculty, we have the ability to help people become successful. President Stenger discussed that it is important to listen to people, and attempt to uncover what it means for them to be successful. As a starting point, you can begin to identify challenges to success and develop strategies for improving them. What kind of response would you get if you went into a community and asked what the challenges are to those who inhabit it? What if you asked those same communities what it would take to ameliorate those challenges, and what success for them would look like? Through this, you can begin to uncover what your challenge as a researcher is, and incorporate the community into the action research so that it has the best chance of producing the desired impact.

Stephanie Malmberg

Doctoral Student, College of Community and Public Affairs

Binghamton University