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Commentary: D.C. Council Should Support Grandparent Caregiver Program

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Judith Sandalow, Executive Director of the Children's Law Center in Washington

The proposal before the D.C. Council is a small, but important, change to the Grandparent Caregiver Program, a program that provides financial support to low-income grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. At a hearing on the amendment, a representative from D.C.'s Child and Family Services Agency testified that they sought the change because it would allow more children to stay with their families.

This is one of many bold changes the city is making in a broad effort to keep families together and reduce the number of children entering foster care. Forcibly removing a child from his or her parents is traumatic and can cause even more harm than staying in a troubled home environment. But there are times when a child can't stay safely at home. Then, as research shows, living with relatives is the next best option.

The proposed change in the Grandparent Caregiver Program would help allow more children to stay with grandmothers and grandfathers. If it passes, it will be proof that the D.C. Council supports the goal of narrowing the front door to foster care and keeping children connected with their families.

Currently, the program provides financial support to grandparents who are capable and loving caregivers, but too poor to raise their grandchildren without assistance. But the subsidy only starts after the child has lived with a grandparent for at least six months. The change in the law would allow the city to waive this six-month requirement. Children who are being removed from their parents and are at risk of entering foster care could immediately go to live with their grandparents.

This legislation is just a small piece of the kind of investment the District needs to make. As we keep more and more children at home and with relatives, we need to provide the resources to support these families so that children can remain safe and families can move from crisis to success. As we reduce the population in foster care, we need to reinvest those funds in programs that can support children staying at home with their parents or with extended family.

This means mental health services, parenting classes, and professionals making sure parents have the supports they need at home. This also means government agencies working together to ensure families don't fall through the cracks. From experiences with our own clients, I know that the government has begun this process. There is much work still to do, but this extension of the Grandparent Caregiver Program is a good beginning.

Judith Sandalow is the executive director of the Children's Law Center in Washington.

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