BY DONNA M. BUTTS
What do Simone Biles, Kellie Pickler, and Jamie Foxx have in common? They are the “grand successes” of grandfamilies, families in which grandparents and other relatives are raising children.
The simple facts
Today about 2.5 million children are being raised in grandfamilies, also known as kinship care. The families are diverse and live in every area in the country. They represent all income levels, all races, and all ethnicities.
Grandfamilies are formed for a variety of reasons including substance abuse, deportation, military deployment, illness, death, incarceration, or mental illness.
For many grandparents, the new responsibility for raising their grandchildren comes unexpectedly and without time to prepare. As one grandmother said, “For my 50th birthday, I got a two-year-old.”
Most grandparents hope raising the children will be temporary. Yet more than 40% report that they have been responsible for the children for more than five years.
Despite challenges, research confirms that children fare better in the care of their relatives. Compared to children in non-relative care, they have more stability, are more likely to be kept together with brothers and sisters, and preserve their cultural heritage and community bonds. Caregivers also report experiencing benefits, such as having an increased sense of purpose in life.
Children living with grandparents are more likely to be living in poverty. One in five grandparents raising grandchildren live below the poverty line (21 percent). The sudden increase in household size leaves many grandparents struggling, especially those living on a fixed income. Now, in addition to basics like food, medicine, and housing, they face a host of additional expenses, like buying diapers, school supplies, and replacing the clothes a child quickly outgrows.
In 1997, Generations United became the first national organization to address the issue of grandparents and other relatives raising children from the perspective of what is best for both the older and younger generations. While public awareness about the invaluable role grandfamilies play in raising our country’s children has increased over the years, public policy still lags behind.
Working in close partnership, national advocates have successfully championed a range of legislation to improve critical supports and services such as passage of 1) the LEGACY intergenerational housing act; 2) inclusion of grandfamilies in the National Family Caregiver Support Act; 3) Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 (which included kinship provisions first proposed by then Senators Hillary Clinton and Olympia Snowe); and 4) Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014.
But even though grandfamilies save our country four billion dollars a year by keeping children out of the child welfare system, these “informal” caregivers seldom receive the financial support they need, or the respect they deserve.
Now another grand opportunity presents itself with the Family First Prevention Services Act (H.R. 5456), which has passed the House and is pending in the Senate. This legislation would support prevention services for grandfamilies, better ensure children in foster care grow up in families instead of institutions, and help address barriers to licensing grandfamilies.
Each day grandfamilies demonstrate they are capable, caring, and constant. We need to make sure every child has a permanent family. After all, children age out of a system, they don’t age out of a family.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Donna Butts, Executive Director of Generations United, is an internationally known speaker, author, and advocate, she frequently addresses intergenerational connections, grandparents raising grandchildren and policies effective across the lifespan.