What happens to the children of a single mother who becomes so disabled by mental illness or substance abuse that she can't take care of them? Or to the children of a parent who gets killed in a car accident? Who takes care of the children when both parents are called up for military duty overseas? What about parents who are incarcerated? In a large number of cases, children become the charges of grandparents or other relatives who are too often overwhelmed as they take on the full-time responsibility of raising a grandchild, niece or nephew.
In America today, about 4.5 million children live in households headed by grandparents. Another 1.5 million live in households of other relatives. About two out of five of the children being raised by grandparents are there without their parents present.
Yet, most of these grandparents have raised their own children and didn't expect to be parenting again. They frequently must make great sacrifices to help care for and protect the children they are raising. Even though 71 percent of these grandparents are under age 60, and 68 percent of them are working, a number of them need financial help and many require other forms of assistance. Some are living on fixed incomes and only about 30 percent receive any income from government programs.
On May 7, 2008, more than one thousand grandparents and other relatives will gather at the U.S. Capitol for the Third National GrandRally for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children to expand public awareness of the important role they are playing for children who have become temporarily or permanently parentless. The GrandRally is a call for help to families, friends, community groups, state and national organizations, government agencies and elected officials. The cosponsors of the GrandRally are the Children's Defense Fund, AARP, the Child Welfare League of America, Generations United, GrandFamilies of America, and the National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights. One thousand grandparents and other relatives from 41 states rallied in Washington in 2005.
Grandparents and other relatives provide vital care to millions of America's most vulnerable children. They give unconditional love, stability and continuity, as well as 24-hour care, 365 days a year. They keep children safe and families together. Children raised by relatives are more likely to be placed with siblings and less likely to lose touch with their cultural traditions and community connections.
Many relatives hope they can continue to care for the children and keep them out of foster care, but they need help. CDF is sponsoring the GrandRally to give relative caregivers an opportunity to see that they are not alone and that they have allies and supporters in their own states and across our nation.
Inspired by the first two GrandRallies, caregivers in different states established support groups in communities for relative caregivers and for the children and teens they are raising; created kinship navigator programs to help relative caregivers connect their children with services and supports for which they are eligible; participated in training sessions to learn more about how to access the services and supports their children need; organized state and local coalitions of relative caregivers to help make the case for expanded services and support for their children; held State GrandRallies or otherwise educated state policymakers about the help needed by children in their care and testified at legislative hearings, resulting in important improvements for children; and conducted statewide kinship care conferences and returned to Washington, D.C., to share their stories at Congressional briefings.
Become a GrandRally supporter. Work with us to build support for the millions of children being raised by relatives. Please register at http://www.grandrally.org/ and join us for the GrandRally at the United States Capitol at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 7th.
Marion Wright Edelman is the executive director of the Children's Defense Fund. (NNPA)