More than 2.7 million American children are growing up in grandfamilies — families in which grandparents, other adult family members, or close family friends are raising children. A new report highlights how the pandemic has amplified their unique challenges, and offers solutions to better serve them.
The report, “Facing a Pandemic: Families Living Together During COVID-19 and Thriving Beyond” authored by the non-profit Generations United and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Casey Family Programs, points out that at a time when older adults are being cautioned to keep their distance from children because of the heightened risk of infection and death from COVID-19, for grandfamilies, that distance is impossible. Advocates point out that these caregivers are the first line of defense for children during the pandemic, having stepped in when parents cannot raise them for many reasons, including cases where children’s parents have died from COVID-19. At the same time, 30 percent of kin caregivers lack an alternative caregiving plan if they should die or become disabled, a troubling statistic in the face of the pandemic, which disproportionately affects older adults.
While grandfamilies are diverse in geography, income and race, the report finds that caregivers in grandfamilies are disproportionally Black or Native American; nearly half of grandparent caregivers are over age 60; and one in four grandparent caregivers has a disability. These are the same populations that are more likely to be impacted by the pandemic and die as a result.
“While we’re all impacted by COVID-19, grandfamilies, especially, have had tough realities, with limited support systems,” says Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a non-profit with the mission of improving the lives of children, youth and older people. “State and local child welfare and other agencies must better support them during COVID-19 recovery and beyond.”
Federal, state and local governments recognize foster families and provide them with access to resources, but there is little available for grandfamilies raising children outside of foster care. While Congress included support for grandfamilies in the December 2020 COVID-19 relief package, including better access to kinship navigator programs, which help connect families to information and community support as well as provide some direct help to families to meet emergency needs, advocates say this is just a start.
“With so many families continuing to struggle with impacts from COVID-19, it’s critical that state and local child welfare agencies distribute the funds in this package,” says Butts. “Congress also needs to ensure families have ongoing financial support so that caregivers can meet the basic needs of children as they live with the long-term impacts of COVID -19.”
The report also finds that about 19 percent of grandparents responsible for grandchildren live in poverty and 38 percent of grandfamilies are unable to pay or are worried about paying mortgage or rent. Among the solutions to these figures, Generations United is calling for grandfamilies to be specifically named in the next COVID-relief package as an eligible population for financial relief such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
To access the report, visit www.gu.org. To hear grandfamilies discuss the pandemic’s impacts, visit everyfamilyforward.org.
While the pandemic has heightened the inequities different types of families face, advocates say that sufficient support can help grandfamilies recover and thrive.
4 easy tips to help older adults stay active at home
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many older adults are following the advice of public health experts and remaining at home to limit risk of exposure. Bad weather conditions can also keep people inside for days at a time. But a strong body and mind are as important as ever, and the good news is being indoors doesn’t mean having to give up on exercising.
There are many great health benefits to staying active, such as improving mobility and balance, developing muscle and bone strength, increasing energy and managing weight. Exercise can also reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
According to Dr. Gina Conflitti, chief medical officer for Medicare at Cigna, the advantages aren’t just physical: “Keeping active has a positive impact on mental health, too,” she said. “With regular exercise, many older adults enjoy better sleep, clearer thinking, lower stress and improved mood.”
According to Cigna, which serves many older adults through its Medicare Advantage plans, here are four simple tips for exercising in the comfort of home:
1. Make a plan. What is your long-term goal? Having something to work toward is great motivation to keep up daily activity and set yourself up for success. Before you begin any physical activity, talk to your doctor about your health goals. Your doctor can provide guidance on exercises that are safe and attainable as you begin a new chapter of your wellness journey.
2. Take it slow. You don’t have to run a marathon or even lift weights to keep fit – the most important thing is to just move. Start by walking around your house a few times a day or doing some gentle stretching. Just adding five minutes of activity to your day can make a difference in your overall health and mood. As your body gets used to daily movement, you can enhance your physical activities as recommended by your health care provider.
3. Use what you have. You don’t need a gym to get a healthy workout. In fact, there are plenty of exercises you can do using items found around the house. For example, “chair dips” are an effective arm and shoulder workout – just place both feet on the ground, face away from a chair and support your body by putting your hands on the seat behind you with straight arms. Next, raise and lower yourself by bending and unbending your arms.
You can even exercise while seated. Hold your leg out in front of you and trace each letter of the alphabet. Work your feet and leg muscles by laying a kitchen towel on the floor, then use your toes to grab, release and push the fabric.
4. Check your health care plan benefits. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you might be eligible for extra benefits such as at-home fitness programs, including free on-demand workouts accessible from your computer, smart device or phone, as well as gear, such as resistance bands.
Find more healthy aging and exercise tips at cigna.com/medicare/healthy-aging/physical-activity.
“As you start, remember to be flexible and stay positive,” Dr. Conflitti suggests. “Changing habits can take time, but every step is progress. If you haven’t reached a goal, don’t be hard on yourself – it’s most important to continue at your own pace.”