Ensuring Good Nutrition and Better Health of Children and Caregivers
There are 2.5 million children in the United States growing up in “grandfamilies,” meaning they’re being raised by relatives or close friends without their parents in the home, and they face higher rates of hunger and food insecurity, according to a new report.
The Generations United report, “Together at the Table: Supporting the Nutrition, Health, and Well-Being of Grandfamilies,” highlights the particular struggles of such households, which are often unprepared financially for the unexpected job of raising a child, and may encounter difficulty accessing food and nutrition programs designed to help.
In fact, 25% of grandparent-headed households experienced food insecurity between 2019 and 2020, which is more than twice the national rate. The long-term health implications of food insecurity -- including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obesity, and eating disorders -- are dire. Additionally, food insecurity negatively affects a child’s ability to learn and grow.
While families from all areas of the country face food insecurity, for the large number of grandfamilies living in the South and in rural areas, services are often more limited or challenging to access. What’s more, grandfamilies are disproportionately Black, Latino and American Indian, and Alaska Native, populations that already have disproportionate rates of food insecurity due to years of systemic racism.
Recently, the White House released a sweeping national strategy to reduce hunger. While advocates describe the plan as welcome and comprehensive on many levels and say that it identifies the importance of improved outreach to grandfamilies, they also believe it must go further. According to Generations United, some key policy changes to reduce food insecurity for grandfamilies include:
• Developing quality kinship navigator programs that connect grandfamilies to support and services in their communities. These programs should provide food and nutrition support to grandfamilies outside the child welfare system.
• Expanding access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by making a “child-only” benefit that is based on the needs of the child as opposed to household income and by increasing outreach to grandfamilies.
• Ensuring automatic access to free and reduced school meals for children living in grandfamilies.
• Improving outreach of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to help reach more grandfamilies and connect them with benefits for which they are eligible.
• Creating joint meal programs for grandfamily caregivers and the children they raise.
“Research shows that being raised by family members or close friends is the best option for children who can’t be raised by their parents,” said Donna Butts, the executive director of Generations United. “But unfortunately, these families face hunger and food insecurity at much higher rates than the average family. The need for basic nutrition and adequate food is universal, and every family deserves to be healthy and thrive. The fact that many of our policies and programs to reduce hunger were not designed with grandfamilies in mind should not stand in the way of this right.”
To read the full report and learn more about issues affecting grandfamilies, visit https://www.gu.org/.