By Lance Robertson, Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging
We hear repeatedly that without family caregivers, our long-term services system would be stretched to the breaking point. Family caregivers make it possible for so many of our nation’s citizens to remain independent, living in the settings of their choice.
Supporting families and family caregivers in their efforts to assist their friends and loved ones is at the very core of the mission of the Administration for Community Living. That gives us a tremendous opportunity to advance how we think about supporting families that include older adults who need assistance in their later years, people with disabilities at every stage of their lives, or both. We also have the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of real people, through programs that provide support to families and caregivers.
Every November, we stop to recognize and thank family caregivers for all they do on behalf of their loved ones. This year, I think we have even more reason to be thankful, to celebrate family caregivers, and to be optimistic for the future of family caregiver support.
Earlier this year, we saw two key pieces of legislation signed into law, both of which will help to strengthen our ability to support family caregivers. The Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act was signed in January, and ultimately will help establish a national strategy to better support families. The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act became law in July, and will for the first time, focus national attention on better understanding the complex needs of grandparents and other older relatives who are caring for children and help to make information about promising practices and programs more accessible for these special families.
I am excited that ACL will be leading the Department of Health and Human Services’ work to implement these two important initiatives. Both fit perfectly with ACL’s commitment to supporting families and family caregivers. They offer valuable opportunities for federal agencies to come together in support of family caregivers, including grandparents and older relatives and build on ongoing and new initiatives to support families and family caregivers. We are currently accepting nominations to serve on the advisory councils these laws established, and we are looking forward to the work we will do together beginning in the new year.
There are other initiatives to celebrate, as well. In September, ACL awarded a new cooperative agreement to the Alzheimer’s Association to begin working on strategies and supports to bolster the financial literacy and preparedness of family caregivers. Earlier this month, ACL launched the redesigned Eldercare Locator web site, which feature a new Caregiver Corner complete with updated resources and information for family caregivers.
We also now know more about the programs we administer and the people we serve through National Family Caregiver Support Program funded through the Older Americans Act. ACL just completed a multi-year project to examine how the program is designed and administered at the state, local and provider levels and how it impacts family caregivers. We previewed the results at a webinar on November 28th, and we’ll be sharing the complete report soon. We anticipate learning more about service use and impacts, caregiver needs and preferences, and recommendations for the aging services network as it looks to build upon proven success in administering the program.
Similarly, we are evaluating the work done through the “Supporting Families Communities of Practice” initiative, which ACL funded for five years. This program was designed to build capacity across and within states to create policies, practices, and systems to better assist and support families that include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, across the lifespan. We’ve seen good results from this work, with many states and communities adopting promising practices, such as the use of the LifeCourse Framework developed by the University of Missouri – Kansas City Institute for Human Development, which is one of the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities funded by ACL.
We look forward to sharing the results of the evaluation, which will help us better understand the results from the project and which will inform our future work in supporting families.
I am confident in our capacity to be there to support families and family caregivers in meaningful and lasting ways. As 2018 National Family Caregivers Month comes to a close and as we continue to celebrate this season of thanks, I am grateful for the opportunities we have every day to make a difference in the lives of these amazing individuals, and appreciate our partners in the aging and disability networks who make that work possible.