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Older kinship caregivers face additional problems amidst pandemic

In the United States 2.7 million children currently live with non-parent relative caregivers, many of whom are grandparents.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, grandparents face additional challenges that increase their health risk and limit access to additional needed resources.  Generations United recently released a report that documents challenges some grandparents face while raising relatives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health care risks are of great concern among this population. Nearly half of grandparents caring for children are older than sixty, nearly twenty percent live below the federal poverty line, and a quarter of them have a disability. Many more grandparents are Black and Native caregivers, relative to White caregivers. All these factors put them at increased risk for COVID-19. In addition, exposure to COVID is more likely when caregiving responsibilities include taking young children to school and/or in-person visiting with parent(s). Caregivers often do not have enough time to attend to their own health-care needs.

Caregivers are at risk for losing access to their supportive services during the pandemic. Many organizations have had to operate remotely. Not every kinship family has access to a computer or the internet, leaving them without vital resources and support, especially as many schools have turned to on-line learning.

Informal kinship caregivers are less likely to be licensed formally as foster parents; they do not receive foster care or adoption assistance payments, and cannot easily access programs like Medicaid and Food Stamps to account for increase in family size. The increased amount of financial need with potential loss of income due to the pandemic can be disastrous for caregivers trying to maintain housing costs, food, school supplies, and other necessities for their families.

Generations United encourages action steps to help grandfamilies during COVID-19 and beyond. Recommendations include:

  • advocating for policy changes to increase the amount of federal funding for kinship navigator programs,
  • increasing funding for TANF,
  • implementing a tax credit for federal guardianship,
  • allowing for child-only SNAP benefits, and
  • increasing investments in family supports and expanded supports for children receiving virtual schooling.

Kinship care is strongly associated with more positive outcomes for youth than stranger foster care. Grandparents and programs that support them need expanded financial and social support to increase positive outcomes for children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

You can read Generations United’s “Facing a Pandemic: Grandfamilies Living Together During COVID-19 and Thriving Beyond” report here.