Hearing explores growing need to support grandparents

Rep. Pashinski highlights legislation to help grandparents raising grandchildren

WILKES-BARRE, Sept. 28 – Addressing the rising number of multigenerational households across the state, Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski today hosted a House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing on the increasing number of grandparents raising grandchildren and the legislation and resources needed to support caregivers and children across Pennsylvania.

“I first became aware of this issue more than a decade ago when I was fortunate enough to meet several heroes in our communities – grandparents who stepped in to raise their grandchildren for various reasons,” said Pashinski, D-Luzerne. “We passed three bills in 2018 to create important resources for grandparents, bills that I’m very proud will help thousands of people in need. However, our work on this issue is not complete, and it’s one reason why I’m trying to pass House Bill 2858 that would provide for legal services – including adoption – that kinship care families desperately need.”

Held at the Henry Student Center at Wilkes University, Wednesday’s hearing consisted of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, nonprofit founders and state officials. The hearing noted that the opioid epidemic has contributed to the number of kinship care families but also recognized that a multitude of reasons can lead to a family member stepping in to raise children.  

“The stark reality is – and it happens for many reasons – grandparents raising grandchildren is a very real thing, and I know this has been going on for a very long time,” state Rep. Gina Curry, D-Delaware, said. “I’m thinking about the stigma in talking about the need to take care of family and grandchildren, and I’m concerned about people in my district who are in an isolated place because they may encounter language or cultural obstacles.”

Karen Barnes, president and founder of the nonprofit Grands Stepping Up in Delaware County, noted she has tried to work with numerous lawmakers and school districts, as well as, Grands Stepping Up Denis’ Pantry in Upper Darby, to reach families that otherwise wouldn’t be contacted because of language or cultural obstacles.

“Caregivers, including grandparents who are raising grandchildren, often face a myriad of challenges such as access to information about available benefits and resources, lack of adequate education and training, and financial assistance to help defray the costs of caregiving-related expenses,” said Deputy Secretary Steven Horner, PA Department of Aging. “The department’s Caregiver Support Program, administered statewide through the 52 Area Agencies on Aging, provides resources and assistance that focus on the caregiver’s well-being and alleviate the stresses associated with caregiving.”

Kinship caregivers sometimes don’t have legal custody of their grandchildren, and they can struggle with financial needs to pay for essentials and child care – oftentimes going without what they need.

“The ages of grandparents and the role of grandparents have changed, and I wanted to know how you get older adults to come forward to say they are raising their grandchildren and they need help,” said state Rep. Darisha Parker, D-Phila.

Testifiers noted that one of the biggest fears facing grandparents – specifically those stepping in to help parents who are suffering from substance use disorder – is that Children & Youth or police would intercede and take their grandchildren away. Natalie Hoprich, who is a grandmother raising her grandchildren, said grandparents need to realize authorities are not attempting to break up households. In recent years, Hoprich said, she has noticed it has become more acceptable for grandparents to come forward and hopes that enables even more to do so in the future.

“We have to start treating these heroic people not as grandparents but as the parents and caregivers they really are,” state Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Monroe, said. “Having been raised by a single dad and a grandmother, I know firsthand the challenges a family unit faces, and I am so grateful for the testifiers today for their tireless advocacy, their passion and, most importantly, their unquestionable love for their grandchildren. I’ve been proud to work closely with Representative Pashinski over the years on improving services and resources for families in these situations, and I know our work is not yet done. This was an enlightening and sometimes heartbreaking hearing, and it’s critical that we continue to spread the word of available resources and erase the stigma some grandparents unnecessarily feel.”

The hearing marked the third day of Policy Committee tours, roundtables and hearings in northeast Pennsylvania that also addressed coal mine reclamation and flood mitigation.

For more information about this hearing and other hearings, head to pahouse.com/policy.