Grandparents need support
By Marqueece Harris-Dawson
Every year, the second Sunday in September is National Grandparents Day.
For many grandkids, grandparents are the idealized version of our parents — similar to them but without all the rules and discipline. However, increasingly for millions of children across the country these days, grandparents are more than just a pleasant Sunday visit. They are the parents.
Currently, more than 6 million children are being raised by a grandparent or another relative, according to Generations United. And at least 2.5 million grandparents are considered the primary caregivers for their grandchildren.
In many poor minority communities, there is a long tradition of grandparents stepping in as temporary parents. Since the mid-1980s, these arrangements have become increasingly prevalent as families have been torn apart by the onslaught of widespread poverty, addiction and incarceration.
At Community Coalition, the nonprofit based in South Central Los Angeles that I head, we routinely see the remarkable sacrifice these grandparents and family members make for their loved ones.
They often take on their new responsibility with little time to prepare. They must make a life-changing decision in a moment’s notice when they receive an urgent call from a relative or a social worker looking for a safe home to place a child who has just lost a parent to illness, death or jail. They often risk their own financial, physical and emotional health to provide a safe, stable and loving home for a grandchild, niece or nephew.
These family members are saving children from entering a broken foster care system or worse. More than 70 percent of all California State Penitentiary inmates have spent time in the foster care system, according to a May 12, 2006, Select Committee Hearing of the California Legislature.
Numerous studies have shown that children who live with relatives are more likely to find permanent homes and thus less likely to experience behavioral problems or require mental health treatment versus those in foster care. In the long run, they are more likely to do better in school, stay out of jail and not become homeless.
Unfortunately, while child welfare agencies may understand the benefits to children, they fail to adequately support these families.
For example, more than 50 percent of children removed from their homes by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Families are placed with relatives but they receive nowhere near the same access to support and services available to non-relative foster care parents. These barriers often lead many grandparents who were once economically stable into poverty or illness in the process of caring for young children.
Grandparents and other relatives should not have to risk their own health and financial well-being to care for a child who would otherwise end up in a broken foster care system. Child welfare agencies and policymakers should develop coherent and comprehensive approaches to delivering services to kinship families in order to remedy this disparity.
In the end, what these grandparents and other relatives do is nothing short of heroic. And they certainly deserve a lot more than one day of recognition.
Marqueece Harris-Dawson is president and CEO of Community Coalition in Los Angeles. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune.
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