by Keith Morris, President and CEO, Elder Law of Michigan
While driving the other day, I heard an interesting story about grandfamilies on National Public Radio. According to Generations United, 1 in 10 kids are living with a grandparent. There are 2.7 million grandparents who have primary responsibility for the care of their grandchildren. Twenty-seven percent of children in the foster care system are cared for by grandparents.
After thinking about this story for a few minutes, I came to realize that Elder Law of Michigan’s programs have definitely seen this in our clients.
This past year, our MiCAFE program did a special outreach and education campaign to what we call “intergenerational households.” With support from the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, we targeted these grandfamilies in minority communities around the Detroit area. Our goal was to educate them about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and then help them apply for the benefit. Some of the seniors that we assisted were the sole source of financial support for three generations. Some of the seniors were sacrificing greatly just so their grandchildren could have enough food to eat and clothes to wear.
The Legal Hotline for Michigan Seniors has provided legal advice to these grandparents for a number of years. We have always referred to this as kinship care resources. Our hotline has been addressing issues like guardianship, benefits access, and children living in senior apartment facilities for a while. Over the past few years, we have seen an increase in legal issues related to education and juvenile issues–definite evidence of the growing trend of the grandparent being the primary caregiver of grandchildren.
The concept of the sandwich generation is one that I am sure everyone is familiar with. This is when the middle generation is both raising their own children and caring for an aging parent at the same time. I have talked with so many of these caregivers who are struggling to meet commitments, with a large number of them not able to quit working to accomplish this. Elder Law of Michigan has placed a focus on helping caregivers navigate the system of senior services.
Now I see another dynamic in this. We also need to focus our efforts on assisting grandparents that are the primary caregiver for grandchildren. There are many great programs out there that offer kinship care resources. We at Elder Law of Michigan need to make sure we are doing our part to connect seniors to these resources. We also need to make sure we are working to address any unmet needs.
Whether we call it grandfamilies, intergenerational households, or kinship care, Elder Law of Michigan strongly supports the sacrifice and commitment that family members make to care for other generational members.
If you live in one of these households, I’d love to hear from you about the challenges that you face. If you work for an agency that provides kinship care services, please let me know so that we can make sure we have you listed as a resource.
Keith is the President & CEO for Elder Law of Michigan. He has been with Elder Law since 2001, when he started as a volunteer while in law school. In 2007, Keith became the Project Director for the Center for Elder Rights Advocacy, which was established to provide technical assistance to senior legal hotlines throughout the nation. In this role, Keith has provided advice and consultations to programs on topics ranging from intake processes to targeting of services. He is currently taking the lead on a project to develop outcome reporting for the work at senior legal hotlines.
Additionally, Keith has presented at national conferences for the past eight years on topics such as using volunteers in a hotline setting, hotline adaptations to meet community needs, and fundraising for sustainability. He has done site visits to senior legal service programs to offer his expertise on operational and management topics like designing intake processes, building community collaboratives, and doing outreach to underserved communities.