Growing up in the 80’s, I recall watching my Uncle Shorty, a retired, decorated WWII pilot, raise his two young grandchildren. My cousin had become a victim of the opioid crisis long before it ever made national news. One night, while trying to rescue my cousin from another drug induced stupor, my aunt was hit and killed crossing a busy highway chasing my cousin. In an instant my uncle became a single parent to two very young children in his 60’s. He did his very best to provide his grandkids a stable life. They were his life. He attended every school event, signed them up for sports and dancing, taught them how to drive and when they graduated high school, supported them as they too stumbled along the way.
In 2010, about one in 14 U.S. children (7 percent) lived in a household headed by a grandparent—for a total of 5.4 million children, up from 4.7 million in 2005. It is estimated that 23% of grandchildren raised by grandparents (with no parent present) live with their grandfathers. Because the number of grandparents raising grandchildren is continuing to grow, this segment of the caregiving population would benefit from improved coordination of resources intended to support them, as well as better dissemination of information about those resources.
In 2018, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act to help address this issue. In doing so, this law will establish a Federal Advisory Council to support grandparents and other relatives raising children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will become the lead agency coordinating the work of the council. Its charge is to identify, promote, coordinate, and disseminate information about resources and best practices to help relative caregivers meet the health, educational, nutritional, and other needs of the children in their care as well as maintain their own physical and mental health and emotional well-being.
My uncle’s grandchildren have gone on to have families of their own and have become responsible adults, in no small part attributed to the caring my uncle provided. When Uncle Shorty passed away in 2007, he had moved on to taking care of his great grandson while his mother was in nursing school. My uncle gave up his most precious retirement years raising his grandchildren. He gave up traveling, fishing, and doing all those things we all dream of doing when we retire. I asked him once if he regretted the way life had turned out. He said he wouldn’t have it any other way.