Thousands of grandparents and other relative caregivers from across the country, many using walkers and wheelchairs, gathered on the front lawn of the U.S. Capitol, recently to demand changes to healthcare, housing, and kinship laws, as part of the Fifth National GrandRally.

Carrie Robinson traveled from New York to support other grandparents rearing minor relatives. Robinson said knowing one’s rights as a grandparent, was critical to ensuring the security of children. / (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

Designed as a national platform for grandparents and other relatives rearing children, the gathering of mostly Black senior citizens on May 10, moved to challenge new federal policies and programs that threaten to dismantle their security.

“Grandparents and other relatives are our nation’s best natural resource when it comes to making a difference in the lives of vulnerable children,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) told the crowd. “In times like these, with so many communities struggling with the opioid epidemic, it’s grandparents and relatives who are often the first to step up and take care of the children who are left behind. I am proud to stand with the families who are improving the lives of children every day. I am going to keep fighting to make sure Congress doesn’t pull the rug out from under them and gives these families the help they need.”

Wyden joined Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bob Casey (D-PA), syndicated columnist Michelle Singletary, and musician SaulPaul, in acknowledging the critical roles “grandfamilies” play in keeping children within loving households, and in safe environments.

Casey, along with Sen. Susan Collins, (R-Maine), introduced on May 11 the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act, which would create a federal task force to coordinate a one-stop-shop of resources needed by seniors.

For every child in foster care, nearly 20 children are being raised by relatives outside the child welfare system and are receiving little to no support. There are more than seven million children living in households headed by a grandparent or other relative, and nearly 2.6 million of them are being raised in kinship families with no parent present.

Carrie Robinson, a retired teacher from Bronx, New York, is among those caregivers.  Robinson told the AFRO that she made the trip to D.C. to network with and support other grandparents who find themselves pinned behind both financial and housing cuts and who face new challenges as a result.

Robinson said that the days of grandparents or other relatives simply opening their homes to minor kin has been decimated by legal wrangling and loopholes.

“I have six grandchildren who I care for and through my organization, Grandparents Empowerment Movement, I am becoming more aware of my rights as a caregiver.  President Trump, cutting down Medicaid and Medicare, means that my grandkids are at risk for not being able to be seen by physicians or have access to medication,” Robinson said.  “I am a retired teacher, so at the same time Trump is attacking the healthcare system, there is a call to reduce our pensions.  We have to know our rights and fight for them.”

Nearly 2.7 million grandparents are householders responsible for their grandchildren who live with them, and one in five of them live in poverty.

“Every child in America deserves a safe, supportive and permanent family,” Sharon McDaniel, a member of Casey Family Programs Board of Trustees, and founder, president and CEO of A Second Chance. said before the rally. “More and more, grandparents across America are fulfilling this vital role.”