The number of family caregivers, including grandparents who are raising grandchildren, is significant and growing. They are the backbone of our country’s caregiving system and supporting them is critical to making it possible for people of all ages and abilities to continue to live in their communities.
Caregivers provide support, but they also need support.
That’s why we are so pleased to lead the implementation of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act and the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act. These two laws recognize the importance of family caregivers in our country. Both laws establish advisory councils with memberships that reflect the diversity of the more than 43 million caregivers in America. ACL called for nominations for the councils, reviewed applications, and this week, hosted the inaugural meetings.
It was exciting and humbling to welcome members of both councils, especially the family members who know firsthand the joys and demands of family caregiving.
Each council has members whose expertise comes from their personal experience, their professional background, or both. The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Advisory Council includes grandparents and other older adults caring for children. Both caregivers and care recipients are represented on the RAISE Family Caregiving Advisory Council. Between the two councils, there are members who work in the fields of aging, health care, social work, law, public health, research, and a range of related fields. There are also more than a dozen members on each council who represent a wide range of federal agencies that administer programs for or have responsibilities to family caregivers and care recipients.
We were honored that HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan joined us to launch both efforts. “HHS recognizes the significance of caregivers and is eager to support” the councils and their work, Hargan told those gathered. “These meetings offer an opportunity to talk through issues of great importance to our health care system.” He urged the council members to bring not only their “compassion and generous hearts, but also innovative ideas. You bring expertise, passion and commitment that we are going to rely on to make life better for Americans from all walks of life.”
The two-day gathering is an important milestone in our country’s journey to better recognize and support those who step up to support family members. But it was also the start of a lot of hard work.
The RAISE Family Caregiving Advisory Council will provide recommendations to the Secretary of Health and Human Services on effective models of both family caregiving and support to family caregivers. It also will provide recommendations to improve coordination across federal programs. These recommendations will guide the HHS Secretary in developing a national family caregiving strategy.
The Supporting Grandparents Advisory Council will develop a report that outlines best practices, resources, and useful information for grandparents and other older relatives raising children. The report will help inform efforts by HHS, Congress, and state agencies responsible for carrying out family caregiver programs.
The meetings included presentations about the current national landscape for supporting family caregivers and how to ensure that all populations – including tribes – are consulted about best practices for family caregiving. It also included an exchange of ideas and support between people who have lived experience as caregivers.
My connection to these topics is personal. I am a grandchild raised by grandparents and I have been a family caregiver, so I appreciate both the rewards of caregiving and the need for strong supports.
As I told the council members at the start of the day, this is our opportunity to dream big and be bold—and to balance those big ideas with realistic and practical goals we can attain soon. Together, we will chart a path forward to make a difference in the lives of caregivers and their loved ones.