Support for Grandparents

Here in San Francisco at the American Society on Aging annual conference, “Aging in America,” I co-led a peer group session around grandparenting today, along with my friend Donna Butts, the Executive Director of Generations United. The highlight for me was meeting new people and seeing old friends…and getting fired up by their enthusiasm. A few of my inspired colleagues shared what they were up to:

  • Ed Martinez, from a San Diego Health Center told us about recently meeting several grandparents raising grandchildren in his community. “I was awed by their strength and compassion. They are just doing what they have to do to give their grandkids a chance in life, ” Ed shared. I like the way he put that. Those grandparents are awe-inspiring indeed. He (and many others like him) is at the conference to learn more about how to target the health care, respite and other wrap-around services his organization offers to better serve the needs of older adults, including these grandparent caregivers.
  • Nellie Garay, one of the most dedicated superstar program practitioners I’ve ever met, talked about her work in San Antonio with the Area Agency on Aging where she runs the grandparent/kinship support program. Her energy is contagious as she lights up talking about the work she is doing, and how much she appreciates the resources of AARP and other national organizations that help her do her job. Nellie worked to start 8 support groups for grandparents that are school-based. One of her proudest accomplishments is that most of those groups are still going with very little support from her. A big turnaround from a time when the schools weren’t receptive to the grandparents at all. When you meet her you understand why. How could anyone say no to Nellie?!
  • Andrea Sherman from Western Michigan University announced she’s created a new curriculum for grandparents who are providing child care to grandchildren. A great resource considering over 20% of young children receive child care from their grandparents these days.
  •  Several attendees lamented the fact that their grandparenting programs are barely being sustained…lack of funding due to states that are just about broke the common cause.
  •  A grandmother from New York state told the group about her frustrations trying to attend school conferences for the grandchildren she is raising. First she got a signed letter from her daughter (the children’s parent) saying she was authorized to act in her place in school matters. But recently the school wouldn’t accept that anymore. They say she is doesn’t have legal guardianship or custody. “We don’t want to get custody – we just want to help our grandkids until our daughter can take care of them again.” I hear this from so many grandparents who are stuck in “the system.”
  • Debbie Whitley of Georgia State University announced a new vision for their National Center on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren that will focus on research and best practices to support practitioners.
  • Donna Butts of Generations United shared the good news that the 4th National GrandRally will be held in Washington, DC in September…and AARP is also a co-sponsor of that event.
  • I shared the good news that we are working to update the GrandFacts national and state fact sheets on grandparents and other relatives raising children.

Whew – it’s a lot to take in – and in one short hour. And now…on to the next session…!