By Jaia Lent
“For my 50th birthday, I got a two-year-old. My story isn’t unique. The opioid epidemic has devastated communities all over the country. It doesn’t discriminate against age, race, or gender. It affects all of us.” – Grandparent Pamela Livengood[i]
After years of decline, the overall numbers of children in foster care are on the rise. Experts attribute the increase to the opioid epidemic. Child welfare systems are increasingly looking to grandparents and other relatives to care for the children as they face shortages of foster parents to meet the growing need.
In March the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging highlighted the important role of grandparents stepping in to provide safe and loving homes for these children by holding a hearing entitled, Grandparents to the Rescue: Raising Grandchildren in the Opioid Crisis and Beyond. Generations United was honored to testify at the hearing alongside other experts and grandfamily caregivers who spoke of strengths and challenges these grandparents face.
Witness testimony emphasized the need for clear and timely access to information, support, and community resources for families- a one-stop shop for families that so often step into this role with little or no warning. Unlike parents or foster parents who plan for months or years to care for a child, these grandparents or other relatives usually step into their role unexpectedly. Some may have received a call in the middle of the night telling them to come and pick up their grandchildren or they will end up in foster care. Suddenly, they are forced to navigate complex systems to help meet the physical and cognitive health challenges of the children who come into their care, often after experiencing significant trauma. These grandparents often report feeling isolated with little guidance on where to begin to turn for help.
National advocates recently partnered to update and enhance a key resource “Grand Fact Sheets,” an important starting place for the families. The Grand Fact Sheets for every state provide state-specific information on local program resources, benefits, and data for grandfamilies in every state.
Yet fact sheets are no substitute for supportive federal, state, and local policies and a seamless system of supports. On May 10th Grandfamilies and their allies are gathering at the US Capitol for the 5th National GrandRally to raise their voices and educate policy makers about the need for supportive policies and programs to help the children in their care. The GrandRally also offers a key opportunity to build connections with similar families across the country to connect and support one another.
As more and more families step in to care for children in the midst of the opioid crisis, building these connections could not be more critical.
Learn more about highlights from the National GrandRally at www.grandrally2017.org.
Access the Grand Fact Sheets at http://www.grandfamilies.org/State-Fact-Sheets
View key recommendations for policymakers to improve laws and supports for grandfamilies impacted by the opioid epidemic in our congressional testimony and our recent report- Raising the Children of the Opioid Epidemic: Solutions and Support for Grandfamilies.
Learn more about other resources for grandfamilies from Generations United here.
[i] Zezima, K. (2016, July 26). The nation’s opioid crisis garners attention at party conventions. The Washington Post. Retrieved
Grandfamilies State Law and Policy Resource Center: A database of laws, policy information, stories and resources. In May 2017, this website will include links to newly updated program resources and grandfamilies fact sheets for every state.
Generations United– Home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, www.gu.org provides helpful fact sheets and resources covering issues from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Social Security, to guides for grandparents and other relatives raising children with disabilities.
Helpful Articles/Books for New Grandfamilies:
You join families across the nation who are helping children to thrive in grandfamilies. With your love and support, you can look forward to your grandchildren joining the thousands of grand success stories of children in grandfamilies.
About the Author
Jaia Peterson Lent is Deputy Executive Director of Generations United, a national organization dedicated to improving lives. Home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, Generations United is a leading voice for issues affecting families headed by grandparents or other relatives.
For more from Jaia…