Pashinski, Watson discuss bills to help grandparents raising grandchildren

HARRISBURG, March 12 – To assist grandparents who have sole caregiving responsibilities for their grandchildren, Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Luzerne, and Rep. Kathy Watson, R-Bucks, today discussed legislation at the state Capitol that would give grandparents better access to already existing resources.

An estimated 82,000 grandparents are the sole caregivers for the nearly 89,000 grandchildren in Pennsylvania. That number is increasing due to the devastating opioid crisis across the commonwealth.

“On top of the normal challenges of raising families – child care, afterschool activities and homework – these grandparents also are dealing with a wide range of emotional, financial, legal and daily living challenges,” said Watson, chairman of the House Children and Youth Committee. “So often, these grandparents are proud people. They don’t want a handout – they just want a little extra assistance, and they want to know they’re on the right track.”

Research has shown that keeping children with family when they are unable to remain with a parent is best for their physical, emotional and mental well-being. This reduces the trauma the children experience and helps them develop better bonds with those around them. Children thrive in these families because they provide stability and permanence.

“Over the past few years we’ve held hearings and heard so many tragic stories about grandparents struggling to care for their grandchildren,” said Pashinski, chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee. “It’s time that we as a legislature act to help these grandparents. I couldn’t be more excited to work with Chairwoman Watson to bring assistance to these kinship caregivers who are putting the needs of their grandchildren before themselves.”

The lawmakers said various public, nonprofit and private resources are already available, but grandparents are reluctant to ask for them. They believe that if they do, they’ll be thrust into the child welfare system, their grandchildren will be taken away from them or the state will come in and tell them how to raise their precious family members. As a result, they cannot qualify for assistance available through the foster care, adoption or kinship care systems in Pennsylvania.

The news conference included the compelling stories of two grandmothers -- Lotte Powell of Honesdale, Wayne County, and Joanna Clough of Camp Hill, Cumberland County -- who are busy raising their grandchildren while also serving as advocates for and supporters of other grandfamilies.

The bills at the focus of the discussion include:

  • House Bill 2133, which would establish the Kinship Caregiver Navigator Program – an informational resource for these 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.)
  • House Bill 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 allow 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.)
  • House Resolution 390, which would direct 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.)

The House Children and Youth Committee held a hearing on the issue last summer, with estimates showing that Pennsylvania grandparents are saving the state an estimated $1 billion a year by keeping their grandchildren out of the foster care system, but that figure may be even higher because many of these grandfamilies are not on the state’s radar.

“We want to keep families together when it’s the best thing for the children, and they want to do right by raising their grandchildren,” Watson said. “These grandparents are doing us – the taxpayers – a tremendous help by keeping these children out of the foster system. We want to help them.”

Joining them at the event to offer their support were Health and Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller and Aging Secretary Teresa Osbourne, along with Joan Benso with Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children and Angela Liddle from Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance.

“There are myriad issues that grandparents raising their grandchildren face and the bills outlined today are only the first few steps at helping those who are struggling,” Pashinski said. “The bottom line is all of us, especially the grandparents, want what’s best for the grandchild. I believe we’re on the right track toward ensuring the caregivers have the support, information and legal rights they need.”