The Children's Defense Fund often gets calls from grandparents and other relative caregivers seeking sources of financial assistance. In recent months, many have reported being laid off and needing financial help to continue caring for their grandchildren. They are often embarrassed by their circumstances and afraid to contact public agencies for assistance, fearful their grandchildren will be taken away and placed in foster care. Grandparent caregivers often face barriers to participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) or qualifying their grandchildren for the National School Lunch Program. And while Social Security provides needed support for grandparents, grandchildren aren't always eligible for benefits.
Over the last decade youth unemployment has soared, adding extra stress for grandfamilies already struggling to keep grandchildren in high school and now worrying about them finding a job if they do graduate. The percentage of youths 16 to 19 years of age employed in 2010 was the lowest since World War II. While specific data on youths with relative caregivers are unavailable, the teen employment rate dropped to 27 percent in 2010 — only 1 in 5 teens in a low income family was working. Even youths whose grandparents helped them graduate from college are likely to be employed at much lower salaries in jobs that do not use their college degrees. Nearly half of all Associate Degree holders and one-third of Bachelor Degree holders were mal-employed in 2010.
Please reach out to relative caregivers in your communities. Three past GrandRallies inspired caregivers to establish support groups and create kinship navigator programs to connect children to support for which they are eligible. Relative caregivers organized state and local coalitions, held state GrandRallies to educate local policymakers about children's needs and conducted statewide kinship care conferences. Some were invited to return to Washington, D.C. to share their stories at congressional briefings. They can use your help.
Please join us September 15 at 1 p.m. at the U.S. Capitol. For more information about the GrandRally, visit www.grandrally.org. You can register online at the GrandRally registration page. You can also find out more about children in your own state being raised by grandparents and other relatives at www.grandfactsheets.org.
Marian Wright Edelman is the president of the Children's Defense Fund