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I love my two kids, but parenting is exhausting. The days of putting my feet up on the couch to watch a ball game are over. I joke with my wife that if our kids attend sleep away camp, it’s going to feel like a vacation. Often, sitting down to watch television at 8:45 ends with me asleep on the couch by 9 p.m.

Consequently, my experiences over the past few years have left me in awe of grandparents raising their grandchildren. From a parenting perspective, I can’t imagine physically and mentally powering down parental responsibilities, only to resume them again as a grandchild’s legal guardian.

Imagine being in your 60s or 70s and getting up twice a night to feed a baby or getting a three-year-old ready for bedtime—seems like a job better suited for the younger generation.  However, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that grandparents are responsible for the care of 2.3 million children, a third of who are under the age of six. These types of families are known as “grandfamilies.” Approximately 7 million grandparents live with grandchildren, even when they are not their legal guardian.

Sadly, the pandemic has caused 140,000 kids to move in with their grandparents or next of kin. Challenges such as substance abuse, mental illness and incarceration also contribute to the rise of grandfamilies. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) shared her insights with the American Association of Retired People (AARP), stating, “I first got interested in this issue when I started seeing so many grandparents in Maine who were raising very young children. In almost every case, the parent of the child had a crisis with drug addiction or had been incarcerated.”

According to the 2020 Government Accountability Office report grandparents in this community face challenges including a lack of financial resources, inadequate child care, physical and mental health problems, and unawareness of available support. Financial support can be particularly problematic if a grandparent’s only source of income is social security.

Children also face obstacles. Grandchildren may experience abandonment issues, missed school, and feelings of embarrassment, to name a few. According to Generations United, 18% of grandfamilies live in poverty, complicating matters further.

The AARP reported on Eugene Vickerson, who was retired, when a woman drove to his house with his granddaughter and told him, “If you don’t take this child, we are going to put her in protective services. Because of his granddaughter’s mother’s struggle with mental illness and substance abuse, Vickerson, who already cared for his grandson, took in his granddaughter as well. Unfortunately, Vickerson encountered problems while applying for financial aid, forcing him to use his savings to pay for childcare, beds, diapers and other necessities.

Fortunately, grandfamilies have caught the attention of lawmakers. Last year, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation to create the Grandparents Raising Children Pilot Program in Will County, Ill.  This pilot program aims to connect grandfamilies with state agency resources and services. “As Governor, I’ve made it my mission to help make Illinois the best state in the nation to raise a family,” Governor JB Pritzker said in a statement. “And that means supporting parents, guardians or grandparents—and our youngest Illinoisans. Through this pilot program in Will County, we will connect grandparents raising grandchildren to relevant resources and services provided by state agencies, while creating a public awareness campaign to keep all Illinois grandparents in the know.”

When the 2022 National Strategy to Support Family Caregivers was published, it outlined about 350 actions federal government would implement to support family caregivers. Additionally, it proposed 150 actions for state and local governments, as well as the private sector, aimed at improving conditions for caregivers. This report was developed in conjunction with the advisory council created by the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (SGRG) Act.

More recently, in December, Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill introduced the Grandfamilies Act. This proposed legislation would allocate financial resources to grandfamilies and assist states in providing support to grandparents and their grandchildren.

Grandparents who step up to take care of their grandchildren deserve more than a tip of the cap. Raising grandchildren brings a host of issues for older Americans, and they deserve additional resources to make their lives easier. It’s not practical to ask seniors, many of whom live on a fixed income, to raise a grandchild without assistance. Hopefully, Congress and state governments will continue to take action to ensure the betterment of grandparents and their grandchildren.

Evan Carmen, Esq. is the Legislative Director for Aging Policy at the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior ServicesClick here to read more from Evan Carmen.