Donna Butts, Generations United
Nurses, doctors and other first responders are suiting up and doing the heroic work they are trained to do during the COVID-19 pandemic without regard for their personal safety.
Another group of first responders shows up 24/7, too: grandparents and other relatives raising children — our country’s grandfamilies.
During the current health crisis, adults over the age of 60 and people with compromised immune systems are asked to isolate themselves and not have contact with children and young people.
This isn’t possible for the 2.4 million grandparents who have primary responsibility for raising their grandchildren. Like our first responders, caregivers are the first line of defense for the children in their care.
These grandfamilies — older and younger members alike — can’t take a break from each other.
We can, however, support them and ensure they have access to accurate information to help them decrease their risk of exposure and illness.
We must also work quickly and diligently to ensure they have access to essentials such as food, prescription drugs, educational and recreational activities for the children, and respite and support for themselves.
As the government prepares to stimulate the economy and help those who’ve lost income because of the shutdowns required to bend the curve of the pandemic, policy makers need to keep in mind 55% of grandparents raising grandchildren are in the workforce. When their employers close the doors, they lose.
There are other ways in which grandfamilies must clearly, and uniquely, be included. This is a time to breakdown age-based policy barriers, cross over and think about our young, old and families as whole units, not isolated service recipients.
For example, Meals on Wheels should be able to deliver additional meals to children in the home even if the nutrition requirements for senior and child meal programs are different.
Same with school meal programs that are responding with creative ways to get food to children. When preparing sack lunches, pack extras and make these available for older adults caring for children.
These are just a few ways local, state and federal policy makers and service providers can support these important families. Below are others:
- Kinship Navigator Programs have been or are being launched in most states to act as a central information clearing house for the families. These programs are proving to be key vehicles for getting critical supplies and accurate information to families during this crisis, but the demand is overwhelming. Congress should direct additional resources to meet the demand from COVID-19. More information about local kinship navigator programs can be found at www.grandfamilies.org
- Organizations and individuals can provide support and respite, as well as tutoring for the children through telephone calls and other technology such as Face Time, Skype, and Zoom.
- Local social service and faith-based organizations can reach out to grandparents and other relatives raising children with a check list of necessary supplies and deliver what they need such as antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer and soap.
Many grandfamilies are formed as a result of trauma. The children are more likely to have been exposed to multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACES). During this stressful time, relative caregivers need to continue to provide the love and support that helps build resiliency in children. We all need to provide the support, resources, and services grandfamilies need to do what they do best — care for their family.
For more information, check out Generations United’s COVID-19 factsheet for grandfamilies.