Bipartisan grandparents raising grandchildren legislation signed into law

HARRISBURG, Oct. 23 – Bipartisan legislation crafted by state Reps. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, Democratic chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, and Kathy Watson, R-Bucks, Republican chairwoman of the House Children and Youth Committee, was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf today signaling a major victory for grandparents raising grandchildren across Pennsylvania.

“We’ve been fighting for this legislation for years, so to finally get it through not only the House, but also the Senate and on to be signed into law by Governor Wolf is a tremendous win for grandparents raising grandchildren in Pennsylvania,” Pashinski said. “I’m incredibly appreciative for the support Chairwoman Watson gave these bills, along with the support of my colleagues in the House and Senate and Governor Wolf himself. Governor Wolf was a vocal advocate for this bipartisan package of bills and I look forward to working with the governor and my colleagues in the General Assembly on more grandparents raising grandchildren issues in the future.”

“This legislation is a win for the thousands of grandparents across this state who need some help,” Watson said. “Temporary guardianship will allow grandparents to be able to make decisions for their grandchildren, especially at a time of crisis. These children – many of whom are the latest victims of the ongoing opioid crisis – need a sense of permanence and stability and their grandparents need access to resources to help them. Both of these news laws are intended to be in the best interest of the child. I am grateful for the support and leadership of Representative Pashinski and all of our colleagues who recognize the need for these bills.”

With the signing of these bills, all three pieces of the grandparents raising grandchildren legislative package have reached the finish line:

  • H.B. 2133, which 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. (Sponsored by Watson.)

  • H.B. 1539, which 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. (Sponsored by Pashinski.)

  • H.R. 390, which passed in April 2018, directs the Joint State Government Commission to study the trend of grandfamilies in Pennsylvania and report its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly. (Sponsored by Pashinski.)

“One of the biggest hurdles grandparents face when they first step in to care for the grandchildren are legal issues surrounding custody and guardianship of the child,” said Angela Liddle, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance. “Another hurdle is the lack of a one-stop-shop for information vital to grandparents raising grandchildren, such as local, state and federal resources as well as information on child care, health care and schooling. These two bills Governor Wolf signed into law will be vital to easing the burden on grandparents as well as offering an invaluable resource to help them navigate the vast amount of information and programs available to them.”

Joan Benso, president of the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, said: “It is a tremendous undertaking for anyone to step-in as a parent when a relative is struggling with addiction or cannot effectively parent for some other reason. But we know that children who are placed in informal kinship care are less likely to end up in foster care and will experience better outcomes when they are living with a relative or someone they know. Governor Wolf, Representative Pashinski, Representative Watson and other policymakers recognized the unique challenges these families face and took action. Now, these kinship caregivers will have more of the tools they need to raise the children in their care, including the 76,000 grandparents caring for over 83,800 grandchildren in Pennsylvania.”

“I also want to make sure all the grandparents who contacted their representative or senator know that they did make a difference,” Pashinski said. “Without their help, I don’t know that this legislation would have passed. I’m very appreciative of the time they took out of their hectic schedules to speak up for themselves and make sure Pennsylvania’s elected officials heard from them.”

The increasing opioid epidemic has worsened an already growing problem. 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 more than $1 billion per year. 

House Bill 1539 takes effect in 60 days, while H.B. 2133 takes effect in 180 days.