I heard a new term the other day: “grandfamily.” The term is new but the concept has been around for some time. Everyone knows a friend or two that were raised more by a grandparent rather than a parent.
Although I was raised by two wonderful parents, both of my grandmothers had charge of me at one time or another as I was growing up. That is until the roles reversed as I grew into my teenage years and took on my first caregiving role, providing help and watchful oversight for both of my grandmothers.
But what we are seeing today is different. Grandparents are literally forced into being parents again due to a number of circumstances. The number of grandfamilies in America has been growing and there does not appear to be an end in sight.
Some of this is due to the population increase of older adults, but a lot has to do with poverty, substance abuse (especially during the current opioid epidemic), the death of a grandchild’s parent and extended military deployment.
Many of today’s grandparents – and sometimes even great-grandparent caregivers – find themselves forced to cut into their own retirement finances and defer their dreams so they can prioritize the dreams of their grandchildren.
Retirement is a word rarely spoken in this group as many have had to take on new or additional jobs in order to compensate for the added expense of taking care of the grandchildren they cherish and love. Yet they do it with pride and no apologies.
The good news is there is help for grandfamilies, and it is coming from our government. While Congress continues to find no common ground on most issues, legislators have come together a remarkable number of times in the past year in support of grandparents and other relatives raising children, also known as grandfamilies.
On July 9, 2018, President Trump signed into law the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act, first introduced by republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania in May 2017.
The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act has received support from 40 older adult and child advocacy groups, including AARP, American Academy of Pediatrics and Generations United, which aims to improve the lives of kids and older adults.
What does the new law mean for the more than 2.5 million grandparents who’ve stepped up to the plate to raise children when their parents are unable to do so?
First, it will establish a federal advisory council to support grandparents and other relatives raising children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be the lead agency coordinating the work of the council.
Its charge is to identify, promote, coordinate and disseminate information about resources and best practices to help relative caregivers meet the health, educational, nutritional and other needs of the children in their care as well as maintain their own physical and mental health and emotional well-being.
The council will also develop a process so the public can provide comments and recommendations. And they will document their progress by issuing a report to Congress in the first six months and again in two years on best practices, resources and other information for grandfamilies – as well as gaps in services to meet the families’ needs.
Certainly it’s a start. But my guess is most grandparents will make it with or without the government’s help. Simply put, my friends, grandparents are great!
Rich DeLong, formerly of Richmond Hill, is the executive director for The Villas & The Grand of Seagrass Village in Panama City Beach, FL. Email him at Senior-MomentsWithRich@gmail.com.