(Originally published on the HHS blog.)
Even under the best of circumstances, caregiving can be challenging. For many family caregivers, the routine tasks they perform on behalf of their loved ones are more complex because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only must family caregivers take extra steps to ensure their own health and wellbeing, but there are now additional protective considerations.
Although states and communities have a range of services and supports for family caregivers, many of the resources – like adult day programs, respite services, and other in-home services – are stretched to the limit, or have temporarily curtailed or stopped their services.
Both professionally and personally, the staff and leadership at the Administration for Community Living (ACL) is keenly aware of, and we are addressing, the challenges facing all vulnerable people and their family caregivers at this key time in our nation’s history. .
Over the past weeks, ACL has been working diligently on several fronts to help ensure people of all ages with long-term support needs, and their family caregivers, have access to the programs, services, and resources they need to remain in their homes and communities. We have had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with aging and disability network stakeholders to respond to their specific technical assistance needs. Additionally, ACL quickly disbursed CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act funds, ensuring that states and providers have the resources they need to increase essential services such as home delivered meals, and to find innovative ways to modify existing services like virtual caregiver support groups and ensuring that personal protective equipment (PPE) can be among those supplies that can be provided.
During two “tele-town hall” events convened by AARP on March 19 and 26, I shared my thoughts on caring for family, friends, and neighbors during this pandemic. I fielded questions about family caregiving, including planning care, coordinating backup care, and accessing local resources for additional support. Most importantly, I stressed the importance of staying connected to isolated loved ones during this difficult time.
Because reliable information is especially critical during this time, our agency is regularly updating our website with information specifically for older adults, people with disabilities, family caregivers, and our network of service providers. Our website also contains materials for May’s Older Americans Month observance. I know and appreciate that older adults across the country, particularly during this pandemic, are making positive contributions in their communities, within the parameters of safety.
On April 21, 2020, ACL announced the release of nearly $1 Billion in grants to the aging and disability networks to help meet the needs of older adults and people with disabilities as communities implement measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These additional funds will enable our networks to meet the increased need for in-home and supportive services, home delivered meals, family caregiver support and assistance available through Centers for Independent Living in every state.
Because supporting families and family caregivers is at the very heart of ACL’s mission, I am particularly proud of the ongoing work of the Family Caregiving Advisory Council (FCAC) and the Advisory Council to Support Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (SGRG). Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, these two extraordinary groups remain focused and engaged with ACL on improving our system of supports and services for families and family caregivers, grandparents and older relative caregivers. The FCAC recently published a progress report outlining their work and accomplishments.
As one example of our work supporting caregivers, I’d like to describe a collaboration with the National Academy for State Health Policy’s (NASHP) John A. Hartford Foundation-funded RAISE Family Caregiver Resource and Dissemination Center. NASHP issued a report analyzing more than 800 recommendations from twenty-seven national, state and international family caregiving consensus reports, most of which were written during the past decade. This report will help FCAC’s development of the Initial Report to Congress and the National Caregiving Strategy, already under development.
The SGRG Council met virtually for its second meeting on April 23, 2020. During that meeting, Council members solidified their vision and adopted a set of guiding principles that will shape their work on their Report to Congress and other efforts they undertake to improve our nation’s response to the needs of grandparent and older relative caregivers.
As I look ahead to the next several weeks and months, I know that we will face significant challenges as we work to ensure our family caregivers are supported at every turn, so that they, in turn, can support their loved ones. I am confident that together we will surmount every challenge and create a better future for all families who support older adults and people of all ages with disabilities. The vast majority of people want to remain independent and active in their communities, and we salute the millions of caregivers who help them achieve their goals.