WILKES-BARRE — In Pennsylvania, an estimated 82,000 grandparents are the sole caregivers of nearly 89,000 grandchildren.
Experts and state elected officials have said the increasing opioid epidemic has worsened an already growing problem. And research has shown that children achieve higher levels of success when they’re able to stay in a stable household situation with close family members.
In addition to that, grandparents keeping their grandchildren out of the foster care system saves the state an estimated $1 billion per year.
On Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf and his cabinet members announced Pennsylvania has been awarded $479,307 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families to develop a kinship navigator program.
“In the roundtable discussions I’ve held with grandparents raising grandchildren as a result of the opioid crisis or other difficult situations, I have heard time and again how it can be difficult to navigate the system of services and supports,” Wolf said. “This grant will help us increase our support for grandparents, other family members and especially the children affected by these crises.”
In August, Gov. Tom Wolf was at the Jewish Community Center in Wilkes-Barre and he asked a group of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren what the state needs to do for them. One of those grandparents, Brenda Saba, had the answer.
“Pennsylvania can do better,” she said. “Pennsylvania needs to do more for us.”
Saba was one of several grandparents raising their grandchildren who sat around a table at the JCC to discuss issues with the governor, Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne, and Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre.
On Thursday, Pashinski joined Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith and state Rep. Kathy Watson, R-Bucks, chairwoman of the House Children and Youth Committee, to announce Pennsylvania is expected to receive the $479,307 in federal funding.
“Grandparents need guidance to the resources that are available to them, and the navigator program will provide exactly the help they need,” Pashinski said.
Secretary Miller said the funding makes progress toward establishing a statewide kinship navigator program that can be a resource and lifeline for children and relative caregivers around Pennsylvania, but it is only the first step.
Pennsylvania is seeking to establish a Kinship Navigator Program as part of bipartisan legislation sponsored by Pashinski and Watson. The legislative package aimed at helping grandparents raising grandchildren contains two bills:
• House Bill 2133 — would establish the Kinship Caregiver Navigator Program, an informational resource for grandparents, both as a website and a toll-free hotline. The website would offer information on support and services available, and a specially trained navigator would be able to provide support and guidance to a kinship caregiver, and serve as a mediator to establish relationships between kinship caregivers and relevant federal, state and local agency staff.
• House Bill 1539 — would grant temporary guardianship to grandparents when the parents of the grandchildren are unable to care for them primarily due to substance abuse issues. The temporary guardianship would give grandparents the right to make vital basic decisions for their grandchildren, such as the ability to take a child to the doctor or enroll the child in school.
Both bills are awaiting a vote on final consideration in the Senate.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.