November will mark National Family Caregivers Month. Today, roughly 3 million children reside with grandparents who have committed to being their primary caregivers, according to Pew Research Center estimates.
Grandparents may step in when the child’s parents can no longer take care of the child, when the parents pass away, or when a court takes away their parental rights. Without grandparents assuming responsibility, the state might have placed these children with foster families who are not related to the children. When grandparents become the guardians of their grandchildren, children can preserve familial ties, remaining connected to their biological families.
Although caring for a grandchild is rewarding, it can also be challenging, particularly when it comes to finances. Grandparents who are retirees with a decreased income may face the challenge of balancing their grandchildren’s needs, such as clothing, with their own needs, such as medical care. They might even feel they must use their retirement savings to provide for their grandchildren. However, state and federal benefits programs, as well as other resources, are available to help “grandfamilies” facing financial difficulties.
Several tools are available to support grandparent caregivers with monetary hardships associated with caregiving.
- BenefitsCheckUp — The National Council on Aging’s online resource, BenefitsCheckUp, can help older adults identify federal and state assistance programs for which they are qualified.
Starting with their ZIP codes, users can enter personal information into the tool, and BenefitsCheckUp keeps the information they disclose private. After entering details, the resource generates a personalized Eligibility Results report, which reveals the benefits programs for which they can apply. The tool also identifies areas where program administrators might need more information to determine eligibility. The report can give older adults clarity about which programs they could apply for successfully as well as which programs fit their needs.
- TANF — The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program provides funding that states put toward financial assistance for low-income families for necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing. The TANF program varies by state.
In some states, childcare assistance is available in addition to financial support. To qualify for TANF, older adults must have minor children, be unemployed or underemployed, and have a low income. (TANF is also available to those who are pregnant and minors who are the head of their households.)
- InsureKidsNow.gov — As an online resource for families, InsureKidsNow.gov offers information about getting children low-cost or free health care. Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) give free or inexpensive health care to minor children whose families meet state financial eligibility requirements.
As a grandparent caregiver, you can use InsureKidsNow.gov to explore health insurance options for your grandchildren, including mental and behavioral health and dental care. The Dentist Locator, for instance, can help you find a local dentist who accepts Medicaid and CHIP. The website also has vaccination outreach resources.
In addition to financial constraints, caring for a grandchild can raise other concerns. Grandparents who are primary caregivers may have anxieties about their legal rights, especially when children are involved in the foster care system. Caregivers might also have particular questions and worries if a child has a disability or is diagnosed with a severe illness.
- Grandfamilies.org — An online information center, Grandfamilies.org supports families where grandparents are the main caregivers, providing facts about state and federal laws. The website has a searchable database of the regulations impacting “grandfamilies” — families with grandparents as immediate caregivers.
The directory covers all states and includes information about children who are part of the foster care system. Grandfamilies.org’s Law and Policy Center offers information to help you understand and navigate the legal system. The website’s publications and topic library contain information about issues affecting families where grandparents are responsible for children, such as adoption and kinship foster care.
- Caregiver Action Network — As a digital library and chat center, Caregiver Action Network supplies information about caregiving and helps individuals connect with others facing similar situations.
When you sign up for the Care Chat feature, you can communicate with other caregivers online, asking questions and posting messages and responses. The resource includes information about caring for children with disabilities and illnesses such as cancer. As part of its toolbox for caregivers, Caregiver Action Network also has a directory of financial and legal resources. You can also ask the Caregiver Help Desk questions and receive personalized responses.
This Thanksgiving season, if you are a grandparent who serves as a caregiver for a minor, or know someone who is a part of a “grandfamily,” consider connecting with your elder law attorney to learn more about resources available to you.