As we prepare to celebrate abundance, family, and food during Thanksgiving, many caregivers of children will be fretting about the evening meal as food costs soar this holiday season. A new report released by Generations United shows that children being raised by grandparents without parents in the home face hunger and food insecurity at much higher rates than their peers.
According to the report, the 2.5 million children in the United States growing up in “grandfamilies” face higher rates of hunger and food insecurity. Grandfamilies are families in which children are being raised by relatives – grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, or close friends – without their parents in the home.
The report states that 25 percent of grandparent-headed households experienced food insecurity between 2019 and 2020, which is more than twice the national rate. Food insecurity negatively impacts a child’s ability to learn and grow and has long-term health implications.
The rate of food insecurity among all grandparent-headed households with grandchildren is 60 percent higher than that of all households with children (25% vs. 15%). One stark finding in the report notes that the rate of food insecurity for households where grandparents are raising grandchildren with no parents present, where the grandparents are older than 60, is more than three times higher than the rate of similar households with no children.
Recently, the White House released a sweeping national strategy to reduce hunger. The plan identifies steps to better support grandfamilies like providing healthy school meals for all children, which will immediately provide nutritious food to children being raised in grandfamilies. Additionally, the White House’s call for improved outreach to maximize enrollment to grandfamilies who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an important change. The following key policy changes would improve the plan and cut food insecurity for many grandfamilies:
- Developing quality kinship navigator programs which connect grandfamilies to support services in their communities. These programs should provide food and nutrition support to grandfamilies both inside and outside the child welfare system.
- Expanding access to SNAP by making a “child-only” benefit that is based on the needs of the child as opposed to household income, and by increasing outreach to grandfamilies.
- Ensuring automatic access to free and reduced-price school meals for children living in grandfamilies.
- Creating combined food and nutrition programs for older and younger people, including members of grandfamilies.
An uncle caregiver and National Foster Parent Association board member who made the pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. from Buena Park to testify was Bob Ruble. Twenty years ago his sister was a heroin addict with an 8-year-old daughter. A physical altercation that involved Ruble wrestling a needle out of her hand resulted in child services taking his sister and niece Kindra away from the household. As a blood relative, the next day he was given the choice of taking in his niece or passing her along to a foster family. He picked her up and signed a piece of paper agreeing to take care of her until age 18.
“She’s an 8-year-old girl approaching the age of 12 and 14 years, you can imagine what that was like,” Ruble tells L.A. Weekly over the phone from his Orange County home. “They give you absolutely no resources, even less than adopting a cat from the animal shelter. Her mother passed away from an overdose three years ago. I became a relative caregiver or resource parent.”
The hardest part for Ruble was understanding the physical and emotional trauma his niece had suffered before coming into his care. She had been molested and exposed to drugs, watching her mother overdose.
“Trauma is just the gift that keeps on giving,” says Ruble, who never had any children of his own, devoting his parenting time to Kindra. “For me, trauma was getting poked in the eye or hit in the stomach with a softball. I had no idea the weight of the baggage she was carrying and had no parenting skills other than common sense. It took a lot of classes to learn how to get the tools to deal with her trauma. It still goes on today and I still practice with them.”
Nutrition was an ongoing battle.
“All Kindra wanted to eat was burgers and Taco Bell, which was really hard to switch her over from.” says Ruble. “As I became more involved in working with fostering groups I heard more and more stories about how people couldn’t afford formula for their newborns, especially the informal caregivers who didn’t go through child protective services. Most people just wanted some financial help to feed that extra mouth. I started buying formula and grocery cards and eventually hooked up with the Orange County Food Bank and distributed food boxes. These families are just scraping by.”
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