Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children: Caregiver Support Groups
According to the U.S. Census 2000, about six million children across the country are living in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. More than 2.4 million of these grandparents have the primary responsibility for meeting the basic needs of these children. Factors such as parental substance abuse, incarceration, HIV/AIDS, death, poverty, and military deployments are causing growing numbers of grandparents and other relatives to step forward to keep families together.
The National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) was enacted in 2000 as part of the Older Americans Act (OAA). Administered by the Administration on Aging (AoA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the NFCSP allows for all states, working in partnership with Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) and local community-service providers, to offer five categories of supportive services for grandparents and other relatives aged 60 and older who are relative caregivers of children.
Among the five categories of supportive services provided under the NFCSP is individual counseling, organization of support groups, and training caregivers to assist them in making decisions and solving problems related to their caregiving roles. This fact sheet is intended to provide information on the growing networks of caregiver support groups for grandparents and other relatives raising children throughout the United States, and on other available resources for starting a support group. For more information about the NFCSP, please visit Generations United at www.gu.org for a fact sheet and user guide about the program, or go to the AoA website at www.aoa.gov.
Therapeutic Benefits of Support Groups
The challenges faced by today's caregivers can be physically and emotionally overwhelming. Relative caregivers frequently suffer from stress related illnesses, such as depression, diabetes, hypertension, insomnia, and gastric distress. Additionally, stress may be compounded by the fact that children being raised by relative caregivers, including those in the foster care system, exhibit a variety of physical, behavioral, and emotional problems to a greater degree than the general population of children. Older caregivers may also experience a sense of isolation if the active social lifestyle they shared with peers is no longer compatible due to the caregiver's responsibility for children.
Research conducted by AARP Knowledge Management and the AARP Grandparent Information Center in 2003 to better understand the most effective ways to reach and assist grandparents and relatives raising children found that support groups “...benefit grandparent caregivers by providing both information and psychological/ emotional support.” In addition, caregivers feel that they acquire better child rearing skills, and a time of respite, as a result of support group attendance. To download the report in full, visit http://research.aarp.org/general/gp_2003.html.
Participation in support groups can result in greater physical and emotional stability for caregivers, allowing them to fully focus on the best interests of the children in their care. This, in turn, fosters a safer, more stable, and consistent living environment for children.
Reprinted with the permission of Generations United. © 2008 Generations United.
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