Senate Aging Committee Recognizes Grandfamilies
BY JAIA LENT
“Chairman Casey, Ranking Member Scott, and members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging thank you for allowing me to share my story and perspective. It is an honor to be here. My name is Gail Engel, my husband and I have raised our grandson since he was less than one-year-old.”
While daily news coverage focuses on how Congress is divided and fails to get things done, a different narrative rang out this summer during a Senate Aging Committee hearing, Strengthening Support for Grandfamilies During COVID-19 and Beyond. The event featured the voice of caregivers, advocates, and others dedicated to supporting families like Gail Engel who captured the committee with her testimony about the struggles and joys of raising her grandson with special needs.
Senator Bob Casey opened by recognizing the critical role of “Our Nation’s unsung heroes,” the grandparents and other relatives raising more than 2.7 million grandchildren across the U.S. Calling them “a light in the darkness,” he explained, “They have made sure that their grandchildren are both loved and supported, even in the most trying of circumstances and of course, COVID-19 has been among the most difficult chapters in American history.”
After announcing bipartisan legislation to help the families learn more about the resources available to them, Chairman Casey turned to the floor to Ranking Member Scott, who spoke about the critical role his grandparents played in his life, “While I was not raised by my grandparents, I certainly had a lot of experience with my grandparents as a youngster. My parents divorced when I was about seven years old. We moved into my grandparents’ house. It was certainly one of the houses that Chairman Casey just described as living at the poverty line or slightly below the poverty line. Grandparents raising grandchildren are absolutely a necessity, and we should do everything in our power to provide more light to the problems and more solutions as well.”
Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, families and their well-being unite us. Over the last 20 years doing federal advocacy for grandfamilies, even in the most divisive times, Congress has quietly sought to improve support for these families. While much remains to be done, we must also take time to celebrate how long we have come and shine the light on bipartisan actions designed to help support these extended family members who step up and raise children when parents cannot, often with little to no support. Here are just some of the accomplishments in the last two decades:
- Three major federal child welfare bills became law and included improvements to help grandfamilies including: funding kinship navigators programs, addressing barriers to licensing relatives as foster parents, and prioritizing that children be placed with relatives instead of strangers when possible if they cannot be cared for by their parents.
- Federal intergenerational housing legislation funded housing specifically designed for grandparents raising grandchildren.
- The Federal Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Advisory Council was established and released a report to Congress with recommendations to better support the families
- The federal National Family Caregiver Support program made grandfamilies eligible for supportive caregiver services from local Area Agencies on Aging
- Congress authorized the National Technical Assistance Center on Grandparents and Kinship Families.
But there remains much to be done. The availability of support and services varies widely across the country. Those that exist may not be sensitive to cultural differences and ways to adapt them to reach and effectively serve diverse populations. Grandparents who step up to keep children out of foster care continue to have far less access to support and services for the children compared to traditional foster parents.
“Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, families and their well-being unite us.”
Witness Executive Director Donna Butts explained in the hearing,” When parents are unable to raise their children, grandparents and extended family step up and wrap children in the protective cocoon of family, providing roots and connection to culture, keeping siblings under one roof, and showering children with the one thing money cannot buy – love. They cannot and should not have to do this alone and without our support.”
Congress has united behind grandfamilies over the last two decades and they are signaling a commitment to come together again to support them. You can help by contacting your members of Congress and asking them to take action to help grandparents raise grandchildren.
Share the recommendations from the hearing and let them know about these bills to help the families:
- Informing Grandfamilies Act- 4443 Helps informs grandfamilies about financial supports
- CARE for KIDS Act 1590, H.R. 3997 – Improves access to free and reduced-price school meals for grandfamilies
- Grandfamilies Housing Act –R. 3111, S.2179 – creates more housing for grandfamilies
- The Grandfamilies Act- 4488 Improves access to benefits, funds peer supports, and promotes coordination of services for grandfamilies.
Learn who your members of Congress are and how to contact them here: https://www.congress.gov/.
Despite the common media narrative about the division in our nation, a commitment to the family can and will continue to unite us as a community and a country. As grandparents, you are and can continue to be central figures bringing unity through action to support your fellow grandparents.
Read more from Jaia Lent here
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JAIA LENT
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.