Grandparents as Caregivers
By Josefina G. Carbonell

Grandparents are our connection to the past, and often the key to what shapes our future. Grandparents are our history, and we, in turn, are reflections of their lives and experiences. Grandparents set the values and standards by which families live, and it is through traditions that are passed along through generations by grandparents that families remain strong and together. Something as simple as a special family recipe or an annual family reunion can serve to remind us of the importance of our own heritage and our grandparentsí role in preserving it.

In the United States today, there are approximately 5.8 million grandparents living with a grandchild. Of that number, 2.4 million grandparents ≠ mostly grandmothers ≠ are the primary caregivers of grandchildren, providing for most of their basic needs when their own parents cannot. Many of these grandparents have not planned to take on these responsibilities having already raised their families. But they gladly take on the challenges nonetheless, often at great personal sacrifice to their own physical, emotional and financial health.

The Administration on Agingís National Family Caregiver Support Program provides support for grandparents who are raising their young grandchildren. All too often, grandparents do not know where to turn, and are in need of basic information as well as counseling, support and respite. I am so proud that the National Family Caregiver Support Program is beginning to make a difference in the lives of grandparents across the country. 

The opportunity to develop and expand innovative and supportive programs to assist families and informal caregivers of grandparents and older relatives who are caregivers of children, has led to exciting innovations in Arizona, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania:

United Cerebral Palsy of Southern Arizona is increasing services to grandparents and older caregivers who are raising children with mental retardation or developmental disabilities by providing paid vouchers as a mechanism to streamline access to services. 

The Illinois Department on Aging is providing supportive services to frail, older caregivers, who are the parent, legal guardian or family member caring for an adult child with developmental disabilities. 

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester, New York, is collaborating with 15 national and local organizations to create a Kinship Care Network to help relative caregivers of grandchildren develop knowledge and skills and to improve family stability by resolving legal, financial, health and other problems the family may identify. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging is implementing a support system for older caregivers of adult children with mental retardation or developmental disabilities to reimburse consumers for expenditures related to caregiving and provide resources for all caregiving needs.

As we continue to explore new ways of improving service components for grandparent caregivers, it is my hope that we learn from these and similar innovations and share that knowledge and experience throughout the aging network. The challenges faced by grandparents who are raising their grandchildren can be daunting, but they are surmountable. As we reach each milestone, we become one step closer to our vision of a society that is increasingly aware of the importance of supporting grandparents who are caregivers. 

Where to Go for Help:
State and Area Agencies on Aging and local community service providers across the country have instituted programs and services to assist grandparent caregivers. Other important programs offered around the country include respite services and support groups. 

To learn about grandparent caregiver resources in your community use the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 to contact your local Area Agency. An extensive list of resources and valuable links is also available on the Administration on Aging web site: www.aoa.gov.
 


Josefina G. Carbonell is the Assistant Secretary for Aging at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). She is nationally recognized for her work and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2001 Claude Pepper Community Service Award and the 1997 Social Security Administration Commissionerís Team Award.

 

 Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter