May is National Foster Care Month, a campaign to highlight the needs and increase the well-being of youth in the foster care system. This month, we’ll share a series of blog posts that explore the issue in depth.
When it comes to foster care, the child welfare system has as much of an effect on the caregivers involved as it does on the youth. A caregiver that is well-supported creates an environment that will benefit the youth’s overall well-being since the most important factor in helping a child heal from trauma is a stable, loving connection with a caregiver.i The needs of foster youth and their caregivers are inextricably linked. YMCA Youth & Family Services provides services for kinship caregivers, relatives or close family friends who step in when it becomes clear that a barrier prevents the biological parent(s) from caring for their own child(ren). Within our YMCA Kinship Support Program, 66% of kinship families are composed of grandparents raising grandchildren, a subpopulation of caregivers who have specific needs to ensure the children in their care are safe and stable.
Unexpectedly assuming care of a grandchild has a number of implications for grandparents:
- Economic: Many grandparents are past viable working age and living on a fixed retirement income, so they have limited financial resources available to invest in the needs of the children in their care. For example, the majority of families in the YMCA Kinship program have an average annual household income between $12,000 and $35,988, considered significantly below the federal poverty line for a family of four.
- Physical: Raising children is a tiring exercise for grandparents who experience limited mobility, endurance, and strength due to their advanced age, and research has also revealed that caregiving grandparents report lower satisfaction with their health and poorer self-reported health compared to non-caregiving peers.ii
- Emotional: Many grandparents raising grandchildren often do so with the support of a spouse and have fewer social supports in the caregiving processiii and report intense feelings of isolation after their social circles are upended because peers can no longer relate to their situation.
In response to these needs, the YMCA Kinship Support Program connects grandparents raising grandchildren to the resources that ensure their grandchildren can remain in their care:
Grandparents Raising Grandkids Handbook: The YMCA of San Diego County developed the handbook with community partners and the County of San Diego, Health & Human Services Agency, as an introductory guide to help grandparents understand their caregiver status and to help them access services. The resource is available for download here.
Respite Opportunities: When caregivers have access to a brief respite in parenting, such as day camps or other extra-curricular activities, they can restore their energy and feed their mental and physical health in a way that allows them to parent and maintain a sense of safety and permanency for the children in their care. Currently, respite services are available for caregivers aged 55+.
Support groups, Navigation, and Emergency Funds: As part of the broader YMCA Kinship Support Program, grandparents raising grandkids have access to multiple supports, including one-time emergency funds to pay for child care or a bed for the child to sleep in when they’re first placed in care. A Kinship Navigator guides them through the complexities of the Child Welfare System, schools, public benefits, the court system, or any other resources they need. Caregivers can also attend weekly support groups to help build connections among other kinship caregivers and mitigate the any feelings of anxiety or loneliness that come from their new family life.
When children are placed with relatives instead of in traditional foster care, they are better able to adjust to their new environment and are less likely to experience behavioral problems and mental health issues. Because the benefits are so significant, the YMCA offers caregivers a continuum of supportive services to ensure the children in their care develop the resilience necessary to heal from trauma, develop and maintain healthy relationships, and thrive into adulthood.
To learn more about our YMCA Kinship services for grandparents raising grandchildren, please contact Melissa Brooks at [email protected].
i National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Young children develop in an environment of relationships. Working Paper No. 1. Retrieved from http://www.developingchild.net
ii Minkler, M., & Fuller-Thomson, E. (1999). The health of grandparents raising grandchildren: results of a national study. American Journal of Public Health, 89(9), 1384-1389.
iii Jendrek, M. P. (1994). Grandparents who parent their grandchildren: Circumstances and decisions. The Gerontologist, 34(2), 206-216.