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INTRODUCTION

On November 13, 2000, through reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA), the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) became law. [1] The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging (AoA) administers the program and provides funds to the states. They in turn fund Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) to provide five categories of supportive services to grandparents and other relatives aged 55 and older who are raising children, in addition to family caregivers of older individuals. See below for the five categories of services available.

The NFCSP has been a very successful program. Acknowledging its usefulness, the age of eligible relative caregivers was lowered to 55 as part of the 2006 reauthorization of the OAA, thereby increasing the percentage of caregivers who can be served by the program by almost 20 percent. [2] The budget for this program has also increased since its inception.

According to the law, the AoA releases the appropriation for the NFCSP to the states based on each state’s percentage of the population aged 70 and older. The money is then allocated to the AAAs based on intrastate funding formulas. AAAs use these funds, often in conjunction with other funding sources, to provide or contract for the provision of any or all of the five categories of supportive services to relative caregivers.
 
The federal law states that up to ten percent of the funding appropriated for the NFCSP can be used to provide support services to grandparents or older relatives who are raising relatives’ children. Not many states, however, use the full ten percent.  Connecticut, Illinois, and Washington are states that use the full or almost full permissible amount to support grandfamilies.

PROVISIONS IN THE FEDERAL LAW

Definition of a Grandparent or Older Individual Who is a Relative Caregiver

The NFCSP defines “grandparent or older individual who is a relative caregiver” as follows:

…a grandparent or stepgrandparent of a child, or a relative of a

child by blood, marriage or adoption, who is 55 years of age or older and –

(A) lives with the child;

(B) is the primary caregiver of the child because the biological or adoptive parents are unable or unwilling to serve as the primary caregiver of the child; and

(C) has a legal relationship to the child, such as legal custody or guardianship, or is raising the child informally.

Although there are few formal national studies on the issue, ample anecdotal evidence suggests that the majority of relative caregivers are raising children “informally,” which means that they are raising children without a legal relationship such as guardianship or legal custody. It is therefore very useful to grandfamilies that the law specifically mentions informal caregivers.  Generations United educated Members of Congress to include them, and they eventually were.


Support Services

The following are the five categories of support services delineated in the NFCSP:

(1) information to caregivers about available services;

(2) assistance to caregivers in gaining access to the services;

(3) individual counseling, organization of support groups, and caregiver training to assist the caregivers in the areas of health, nutrition, and financial literacy and in making decisions and solving problems relating to their caregiving roles;

(4) respite care to enable caregivers to be temporarily relieved from their caregiving responsibilities; and

(5) supplemental services, on a limited basis, to complement the care provided by caregivers.

These categories are written to be flexible and respond to the needs of the caregivers in the area being served. The fifth category, supplemental services, is particularly broad.

The NFCSP requires the AAAs, or the agency it contracts with, to coordinate the provision of support services with community agencies and voluntary organizations that are providing similar supportive services. Some of the most successful AAAs that serve these families are those that have collaborations with a broad range of community based organizations, including institutions and organizations associated with serving children, such as schools and Head Start programs.


Priority Language

The NFCSP includes a provision stating that states must give priority for services to older individuals with the greatest social and economic need. Furthermore, specifically for grandparents or older individuals who are relative caregivers, states must give priority to those caregivers who provide care for children with severe disabilities.


Matching and Maintenance of Effort Requirements

The NFCSP has a requirement that each state match 25 percent of its federal allocation. Additionally, the NFCSP includes a maintenance of effort requirement, which provides that funds made available through the NFCSP must supplement, not replace, any federal, state or local funds spent by a state or local government to provide similar services.


PROGRAM EXAMPLES

Thanks to the NFCSP, many AAAs around the country have either started or expanded services to grandparents and other relatives raising children. These successful programs provide models to other AAAs that want to support the families.
 
For example, the largest AAA in Michigan -- AAA 1-B -- has been working to help these families since 1993. Among the supports it helps provide, it has published and disseminated resource guides that are specially targeted towards relatives raising children for each of the six counties it serves. Other AAAs, including ones in Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Texas, and Washington have provided supportive services such as information and referral, counseling, support groups, and/or respite. The AAA in Big Stone Gap, Virginia provides extensive assessment and referral services to grandparents and other relatives raising children through its KinCare Program.

Supplemental services, the NFCSP’s fifth category, are also being provided to grandparents and other relatives raising children. For example, six of the thirteen AAAs in Illinois have used NFCSP funds to provide legal services to relatives raising children. Several of these AAAs use NFCSP funds in conjunction with other state, federal, and private funds, because the NFCSP funds alone are often not enough to cover grandfamilies' needs.

If you have any comments concerning this analysis, please contact its author: Ana Beltran, Special Advisor, Generations United, at abeltran@gu.org.

 


 

[1] 42 U.S.C. 3030s-1

[2] Public Law 109-365, sections 320 and 321

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