Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children: Caregiver Support Groups (page 2)
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.
The Brookdale Foundation Group Relatives as parents Program (RAPP)
The Brookdale Foundation Group in New York coordinates the largest network of caregiver support programs in the country through its Relatives As Parents Program (RAPP). RAPP was established in 1996 to help meet the needs of grandparents and other relatives who have taken on the responsibility of parenting as kin caregivers for children outside the foster care system, when the biological parents were unwilling, or unable to do so. The RAPP program provides $10,000 seed grants over a two-year period to local and state agencies. Local agencies either start a new support group, or expand a current one by adding one or more components such as respite care, therapeutic children's groups, educational seminars, and individual and family counseling. State agencies work to initiate new relative support groups, develop a statewide network linking current programs and interested agencies, and establish or expand an inter-system task force to work on issues related to relatives as surrogate parents. RAPPs currently offer services to relative caregivers and their families in 45 states.
RAPP applications and guidelines are available on an annual basis, generally in the fall, with applications due the following spring. Grants are awarded to up to 15 local community-based agencies and five state agencies throughout the United States. For more information on the Brookdale's Relatives As Parents Program, visit their website at www.brookdalefoundation.org, call (212) 308-7355, or write The Brookdale Foundation, 950 Third Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, NY 10022.
Increasing Access to Behavioral Health Services
With funding from the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), GU has partnered with the Brookdale Foundation Group since 1998 to replicate its local Relatives As Parent Program (RAPP) model in behavioral health facilities around the country. GU's RAPP follows Brookdale's model of issuing seed grants over a two-year period to local or state agencies, in this case behavioral health facilities, to either start a new support group, or expand a current one. Notable successes of this initiative include:
- The University of Maine Center on Aging in Orono, ME, in conjunction with Family Connections, funded in 2002 and 2004, conducted a state forum, developed and offered specialized training, published a series of articles on the mental health needs of kinship care families, and produced a series of policy recommendations.
- Jewish Family Service in Torrance, CA, funded in 2000, developed groups specifically for teens, and replicated RAPP in other areas of their community.
- Family and Children's Service in Nashville, TN, funded in 1998, grew their program from a support group with therapeutic childcare to a full-scale Relative Caregiver Program with three sites around the state.
For more information on the Behavioral Health Initiative, visit GU's website at: www.gu.org.
Reprinted with the permission of Generations United. © 2008 Generations United.
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