Inside The Senior Alliance: Grandfamilies and Kinship Families with Chelsi Rhoades (Ep 1.36)
In this episode, Emma Case, Planning and Advocacy Specialist at the Senior Alliance, talks to Chelsi Rhoades, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at Generations United, a national nonprofit group that helps support grandfamilies and kinship families. They talk about what a grand family or a kinship family is, and how Generations United works to bring generations together instead of isolating them. In the United States there are more than 8 million children living in households that are headed by grand-parents, and Chelsi explains what the needs are for those families and how Generations United helps to support them. They also talk about the advocacy work that is needed for grandfamilies and kinship families, and how you can get involved to help in your community. Great information!
Produced by The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media
Emma Case (00:00):
Welcome to Inside The Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources and issues in the field of aging. I’m Emma Case, Planning and Advocacy Specialist at The Senior Alliance, the Area Agency on Aging, serving Western and Southern Wayne County. Joining me today is Chelsi Rhoades, Public Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at Generations United. Chelsi, welcome to the podcast.
Chelsi Rhoades (00:20):
Hi, Emma. Thank you so much for having me.
Emma Case (00:22):
Chelsi, can you tell me what Generations United is?
Chelsi Rhoades (00:25):
Yes, of course. So Generations United is a national nonprofit based out of Washington DC, and our mission is to improve the lives of children, youth, and older adults through intergenerational collaboration, public policies and programs for the benefit of all.
Emma Case (00:40):
One of Generations United’s goals is to connect generations instead of separating and isolating them. To reach this goal, you focus on grandfamilies and kinship families. Can you tell me what that means?
Chelsi Rhoades (00:50):
Yes, of course. As I mentioned before, our mission is to improve the lives of children, youth, and older adults through a generational collaboration. And one of the intergenerational issues that continued to resurface was in need of leadership, was grandfamilies and kinship families. So we formed the National Center on Grandfamilies in the late 1990s to advocate for and provide technical assistance related to issues involving grandfamilies and better supporting them. And so we use the term grandfamilies and kinship families interchangeably to mean families where kin such as grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and other family members or family friends have a relationship with the child who are raising the children with no parents in the home. And these families can either be inside or outside of the foster care system. And in fact, it’s for every 1 child being raised by kin in foster care, there’s 18 being raised by kin outside of foster care. So we focus on both populations of these families.
Emma Case (01:49):
Your website states that 8 million children live in a household headed by grandparents. What are the needs of these families?
Chelsi Rhoades (01:56):
Yes. So based on the data, there are about 8 million children who live in a household headed by grandparents and about 2.5 million children who live in relative headed households without their parents present. So there’s many needs for these families and it can be very hard to get support, particularly for the families I mentioned that are outside of the foster care system. These needs include financial assistance to be able to afford to raise a child or children who at most times they were not expecting to raise. Food and nutrition supports, housing, medical and access to health insurance and mental health supports to support the children and caregivers’s basic needs during what’s often the hardest times of their lives.
Chelsi Rhoades (02:38):
And despite these challenges, children overwhelmingly thrive in the care of relatives compared to children in non-relative foster care. They have increased stability. They’re more likely to achieve permanency through guardianship or adoption, report more feelings of belonging and acceptance, greater preservation of cultural identity and community connections and better behavioral and mental health outcomes. So despite the many challenges, we often like to say you can age out of a system, but you can’t age out of a family because when you’re raised in a grandfamily, you’re more likely to have these supports and better outcomes even after you turn 18, which is really important.
Emma Case (03:16):
What type of advocacy work do you do at Generations United?
Chelsi Rhoades (03:19):
So for grandfamilies, firstly, I just want to mention that our advocacy work for grandparents and other relatives raising children is largely led by individuals with lived expertise. So people caring for relative children or people who are raised by grandparents or other relatives. And this includes our Grand Voices Network of over 80 grandparent and other relative or grandfamily caregivers from 47 states and 12 tribes. So we really try to focus our advocacy work on what they say that they need and hear from the families directly. And so we advocate with them and on their behalf to help improve the policies that help the families receive services supports and the information they need to thrive. And a few things that we’re currently advocating Congress for include support for Kinship Navigator programs, which are programs that help connect the families to critical supports and services, increase access to temporary assistance for needy families for grandfamilies, which is also known as TANF. Although many people see the support as something more for traditional families, TANF is often the only source of support, financial support for the families, and particularly those outside of the foster care system. And then we also advocate for more investment in peer-to-peer support programs and services for caregivers and youth and grandfamilies.
Emma Case (04:37):
What current bills and policies do you follow?
Chelsi Rhoades (04:40):
We’re currently following a variety of bills. One would be the recently reintroduced Grandfamily Housing Act. This bill would provide support to nonprofits and housing developers to retrofit and upbeat grandfamily housing developments to reflect the needs of grandparents and other relatives raising children. We’re also following the reauthorization of the Title IV-B of the Social Security Act. This is a flexible funding source to child welfare agencies that provide supports to families, including kinship caregivers and youth and grandfamilies. We’re also following the reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which authorizes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, also known as SNAP or Food Stamps and other critical nutrition benefits. And then lastly, we’re following the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act right now, which is due to be reauthorized next year in 2024, and includes many intergenerational opportunities and provisions and some supports for grandfamily caregivers.
Emma Case (05:41):
If any grandparents, kinship families and caregivers or advocates are listening, what can they do to support and advocate for kinship caregiving?
Chelsi Rhoades (05:49):
Well, firstly, if you’re not very familiar with grandfamilies or kinship families, I really encourage you to educate yourself on the strengths of kinship families and how we can better support them. We have a variety of resources on our website at gu.org, including a yearly State of Grandfamilies report. This is a report that we publish every year, really uplift some of the issues that are happening around grandfamilies or kinship families. Our most recent state of grandfamilies report focused on food and nutrition supports. In this year’s, which is planned to be released in early November, we’ll focus on mental health supports. And then I also encourage you to learn more about local organizations and programs that may already exist in your area. We have these resources called Grand Fact Sheets for every state, DC, territories and Native American tribes that you can check out to find out the most recent data on grandfamilies in your specific state or territory, and what programs are available to the families.
Chelsi Rhoades (06:46):
And so if you’re an advocate, you can contact your local programs to ask about volunteer opportunities and other ways that you can support them. And then related to federal advocacy, we really encourage you, especially the grandfamilies and kinship families listening to reach out to your Congress people to really inform them about the issues and challenges that are facing grandfamilies and about the need to better support them in their districts and in their states.
Emma Case (07:11):
What can our listeners and other organizations do to incorporate more generational connection?
Chelsi Rhoades (07:17):
I think the most important thing to know about an intergenerational connections and programming is that it’s really important to make it intentional. And if you’re an organization, you can make intergenerational programs and connections really is part of your model as an organization and as part of someone’s job description to help emphasize the importance of these connections and really be intentional about it.
Chelsi Rhoades (07:39):
And then if you’re an individual, it’s also about being intentional. So it’s important to be reaching out to individuals of different ages and backgrounds, either at your workplace or any organizations that you’re involved in. And I also encourage you to reach out in your communities, as I mentioned before, for volunteer opportunities within our generational programming.
Emma Case (07:59):
If grandfamilies or caregivers need support or are new to caregiving, where can they go?
Chelsi Rhoades (08:04):
Well, as I mentioned before, we have grand fact sheets for every state in several tribes and territories, which include a list of local programs that can help support grandfamily and kinship caregivers. And so I would encourage you to find your state fact sheet to identify local programs that may be helpful for you, whether that’s a kinship navigating program, or an organization that you can go to for legal assistance. As I mentioned, most states have Kinship Navigator programs, which can help connect you to these services that you need.
Chelsi Rhoades (08:32):
In some area Agencies on Aging provide services to grandfamily caregivers most often through the National Family Caregiver Support Program. So I’d encourage you to reach out to kinship navigators and to area agencies on aging to see what kind of resources are available to you.
Emma Case (08:47):
Chelsi, thank you for joining me on this episode.
Chelsi Rhoades (08:50):
Thank you so much for having me.
Emma Case (08:52):
If you have any questions about our services or programs The Senior Alliance offers, you can call us at 734-722-2830 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about our agency or the programs and services we offer can be found on our website at www.thesenioralliance.org. On Facebook, we can be located by searching for the Senior Alliance. Finally, our Twitter handle is @AAA1C. I’m Emma Case. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside the Senior Alliance.
Speaker 3 (09:22):
Inside the Senior Alliance is a production of The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media