Facing a Pandemic: Grandfamilies Living Together During COVID-19 and Thriving Beyond
By Ana Beltran and Jaia Peterson Lent
“I think traditionally people tend to think of their own health as being theirs and when you’re in a situation like we’re in you realize that your health is a big issue not just for you and not just for your spouse, but for your grandchild as well. And so then when COVID-19 comes along, now given our age and looking at the statistics of who is likely to be infected and suffer severe consequences from the infection, that raises the stakes of that game far, far higher.”
–Mr. Joe O’Leary, GRAND Voice, Massachusetts
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults are being told to keep their distance from children, and wave through windows or video call. This is not possible for caregivers like the O’Learys who are among over two million grandparents raising their grandchildren, many of whom are age 60 and at greater risk if exposed to the virus.[i] These grandparents spend their days changing their grandchildren’s diapers, helping with virtual learning, and making meals. They are the first line of defense for these children during the pandemic, having stepped in when parents cannot raise children.
Being a grandparent raising a grandchild is challenging in typical times. Grandfamilies face additional and unique challenges that are distinct from parent-headed families. While some needs are similar, kin caregivers lack an automatic legal relationship to the child and consequently may lack the ability to access services and make caregiving plans for the children in the event of their death. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened challenges and inequities for grandfamilies’ across the myriad systems like child welfare, aging, and housing that impact them.
A new nationwide online survey of kin caregivers conducted by the Grandfamilies Outcomes Workgroup (GrOW), Generations United and Collaborative Solutions revealed:
38% are unable to pay or worried about paying mortgage or rent
43% fear leaving their home for food
32% get to food pick up sites after they have run out of food
30% have no caregiving plan for the children if the caregivers die or become disabled
The survey revealed that overall all sources of support are less adequate since the pandemic began, except for online support groups. In addition to these support groups, pediatricians, caregivers’ primary care physicians, and robust kinship navigator programs that link caregivers and the children they raise to services were among the most helpful formal supports to grandfamilies.
These findings and other data and stories about the impact of COVID-19 on grandfamilies are highlighted in Generations United’s 2020 State of Grandfamilies report released in September- Facing a Pandemic: Grandfamilies Living Together During COVID-19 and Thriving Beyond.
For information and resources to help grandfamilies during the pandemic, please visit the following:
Generations United COVID-19 Resource Page – Generations United’s resources to help grandfamilies and promote intergenerational connections during the pandemic
Grandfamilies.org COVID-19 Resource page – A Partnership of Generations United, American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and Casey Family Programs
COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness Resource Guide for Kinship Families and Grandfamilies – Produced by the Federal Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Advisory Council, Administration for Community Living
COVID-19 Fact Sheet for Grandfamilies and Multigenerational Families (Also available in Spanish) – Produced by Generations United
Generations United Grandfamilies COVID-19 fund – Generations United developed this fund to help grandfamilies impacted by the pandemic. Visit the link to make a donation or learn more about how the fund has helped impacted families.
The COVID-19 pandemic had brought to light the many strengths and challenges grandfamilies face. We invite you to join us in the fight for the recognition, respect, equity, and resources the children and caregivers deserve.
[i] U.S. Census Bureau. “Table S1002 – Grandparents,
2019 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.” Accessed September 2020. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=S1002&tid=ACSST1Y2019.S1002&hidePreview=false Similar age data not publicly available for other relatives and family friends.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Ana Beltran is a special advisor, Generations United. She is an attorney who served as the Director of the National Center on Grandfamilies. As someone who was raised in part by her grandmother, Ana has a personal commitment to the families.
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.