When the contestants on “Dancing With the Stars” recently performed routines representing the most memorable year of their lives, Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles brought down the house dancing to the worship song “Good Good Father” to celebrate the year her grandparents became her Mom and Dad. During last summer’s Olympics many viewers became familiar with her story and her proud parents Ron and Nellie Biles, who adopted Simone and her sister from foster care when Simone was six. Before her dance Simone said, “Growing up, my biological mom was suffering from drug and alcohol abuse and she was in and out of jail. I never had mom to run to. I do remember always being hungry and afraid . . . My parents saved me. They’ve set huge examples of how to treat other people and they’ve been there to support me since day one. There’s nothing I can say to them to thank them enough.”
The Biles family has helped shine a spotlight on the importance of loving families. “Kinship care families” or “grandfamilies” as they are sometimes called are relatives raising their grandchildren or other kin when their parents cannot due to death, military service, or challenges like opioid or other substance abuse, mental health problems or domestic violence. Some children are removed from their parents’ care by the state and placed with relatives in foster care. In other cases, children are placed informally with relatives outside of formal foster care. Relative care helps children maintain family and often community connections. There also is strong evidence that children placed with relatives experience greater stability, have fewer behavioral problems, and are just as safe as children in non-relative care. More than seven million children live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives, and nearly 2.6 million of them are being raised in kinship families without a parent present. They step forward to care for the children but sometimes require financial or other help to appropriately meet the children’s needs.
On Wednesday, May 10, hundreds of grandparent and relative caregivers will gather in Washington, D.C. for the 5th National GrandRally: Building a Community of Hope to celebrate their critical role in providing safe, loving and permanent families for children. They seek to educate Congress and the broader public about essential federal policies and programs that help them care for children and must be maintained and strengthened to support them more effectively while building a community of hope. The Children’s Defense Fund is honored to be cosponsoring the GrandRally with Generations United, AARP, Casey Family Programs, FosterClub, GrandFamilies of America, and the National Kinship Alliance for Children and more than 20 additional partners.
The GrandRally will take place on the front law of the U.S. Capitol and feature Members of Congress, grandparent and other relative caregivers, children in kinship families, and others. A Second Chance Inc. Choir from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which includes many kinship caregivers, will return to offer thanks and celebration for the grandparents and other relatives around the country. Michelle Singletary, who with her four siblings was raised by her grandmother she often calls “Big Mama” in her syndicated column “The Color of Money,” will emcee the GrandRally. After the rally, caregivers will visit their Senators and Representatives to thank them and urge additional support to help children in their care thrive.
The GrandRally builds and strengthens a national network — a community of hope. For relative caregivers across the country this is an opportunity to meet others and know they are not alone. It inspires them to raise their powerful voices in Congress and back at home.
If you are a grandparent or relative caregiver or know someone who is I hope you and others from your community will join the GrandRally on May 10! I urge every faith community, service organization and others to reach out and honor grandparents and other relatives raising children by helping them attend the GrandRally. If you can’t attend, help support a delegation of caregivers and spread the word. Opal, a grandparent who attended the last GrandRally, said: “Attending the GrandRally is not only about sharing and advocacy but about making new friends, having fun, and bonding with those who share a common way of life. It is a great experience from beginning to end. It’s our celebration!”
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.