September is a good month for grandfathers and grandmothers. The Sunday after Labor Day is celebrated annually as Grandparents Day in the United States.
President Obama, in his 2016 proclamation for National Grandparents Day, commended such characteristics as their wisdom, compassion, grit and a legacy of hard work and community involvement.
One category of grandparents he singled out for recognition is the millions who are primary caregivers for their grandchildren, “providing the discipline, guidance and encouragement needed to thrive.”
He called these grandparents “our heroes, our confidantes and our fiercest advocates.”
Here in Arizona, some grandparents have organized to speak up for the needs of grandparents raising grandchildren, as well as other kinship families (non-parents caregivers for children).
The Arizona Grandparent Ambassadors are a support network and an advocacy movement. They have groups that meet in the Phoenix area, Central Arizona and Tucson, and have plans to expand throughout the state.
Besides meetings and workshops, every year they sponsor a Grandparents Day at the Legislature and an Arizona Grandparent Ambassadors Summit to provide education and determine priorities for action.
Why have Arizona Grandparent Ambassadors decided to include advocacy as well as mutual support in their mission?
According to the Children’s Action Alliance, more than 76,200 children in Arizona are being raised by grandparents or other relatives. In one-fourth of these families, the grandparent has a disability.
A similar proportion of these families lives below the poverty line.
Most grandparents didn’t plan to be responsible for caring for children in their older years.
They have stepped up because they were needed and to prevent these children from having to enter the overburdened foster-care system.
Some are still working or find themselves going back to work to support their expanded family. Others are living on Social Security or using their retirement savings earlier than they had planned.
The Grandparent Ambassadors have worked successfully with legislators to secure financial support for some of these families. One enactment provides support for certain families in unlicensed kinship foster care.
The Grandparent Stipend is $75 per month per child and is administered by the Department of Child Safety.
Another bill corrected a “grandparent penalty” in the TANF program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.)
Now a child affected by the “kidcap” policy can receive TANF benefits while living in a kinship family.
Another accomplishment by the Grandparent Ambassadors with the Legislature has been the proclamation of September as Kinship Care Month.
Arizona is one of eight states to have passed such a resolution. The others are Virginia, New York, South Dakota, Vermont, Georgia, Ohio, and New Jersey.
This official designation recognizes all non-parent caregivers of children, predominantly grandparents, and honors the contributions they are making to the lives of the children they are raising.
There is also a movement to secure a congressional proclamation of September as an official nationally recognized kinship care month.
It would be wise to celebrate the contributions of grandparents raising grandchildren all year long, not just in September.
Research has shown that compared to children who enter the foster-care system, children raised by grandparents have “improved school performance, less reliance on welfare, more autonomy in decision making and fewer deviant behaviors.”
Kinship care minimizes disruption when children cannot stay with their parents for whatever reason.
These families deserve greater financial support and easier access to health and behavioral health services.
In partnership with an array of community agencies active in working on these issues, Arizona Grandparent Ambassadors pledge to continue their education and advocacy work on behalf of kinship families.