The Impact of COVID-19 on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: Preserving their Resilience and Establishing a University-Community Partnership Reassurance Program
Published in Children’s Voice, Volume 29, Number 2
by Robert L. Cosby
Economic insecurity and its negative effect on family well-being is an area of increasing concern. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic only has exacerbated these issues (Cosby & Edwards, in press), and the pandemic has had a profound economic impact on families that are African American, those from other minority groups, and the elderly. As stated by Serwer (2020), “in America, where labor and race are so often intertwined, the racial contract has enabled the wealthy to dismiss workers as both undeserving and expendable … the perception that the coronavirus is largely a black and brown problem licenses elites to dismiss its impact.”
A number of articles and books have been written about grandparents caring for grandchildren and about kinship care (Hayslip & Kaminski, 2005; Minkler & Fuller-Thomson, 2005), but relatively few have centered on grandparents who are African American raising grandchildren who are African American (Wilson & Crewe, 2013), or on grandparents raising grandchildren in congregate settings. Only this year has the impact of COVID-19 on grandparenting started being researched (Tompkins & Linden, 2020).
Partnership with GrandFamilies and the Howard University School of Social Work
In 2016, the Howard University School of Social Work (HUSSW) and its Multidisciplinary Gerontology Center (MGC) embarked upon a partnership with Mission First Housing Group, LLC, to support grandparents who are raising grandchildren without parents present (Giambrone, 2016). Fifty older residents and their families now live in Plaza West, a high-rise building that opened in September 2018. Located in the burgeoning Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood of Washington, Plaza West is a 12-story, 223-unit apartment building of subsidized housing. Construction was made possible by a limited partnership with the District of Columbia government; the locally based Bible Way Church provided the land. The District government and Bible Way developers opened the first of its kind in Washington, DC: An affordable housing project within the city limits with two- and three-bedroom apartments specifically designated for “GrandFamilies,” or households headed by grandparents who are raising grandchildren.
The District of Columbia contributed $25 million of the estimated $90 million cost of construction ($65 million financed) for the building. Fifty of the 223 units are set aside for GrandFamilies who earn between 30% and 40% of the area median income (AMI) (see https://housing.arlingtonva.us/income-rent-limits/), or between $35,000 and $47,000 a year for a four-person household. The remaining 173 units house families making between 50% and 60% of the AMI, or between $58,000 and $71,000 a year for a four-person household (Giambrone, 2018). Onsite social services, specifically tailored for seniors and children, are made available through the DC government. HUSSW and Gerontology Center volunteers work with the resident families in the 50 GrandFamilies units.
Formation of Grandparent Support Group
HUSSW provides facilitation for a Grandparent Support Group. The owners of the building, GRP, a nonprofit subsidiary of Bible Way Church, and Henson Development Company brought in Mission First Housing Group for overall management of the 50 housing units. This public-private partnership between the HUSSW and Mission First has been guided by a Memorandum of Understanding that provides opportunities for HUSSW faculty and student volunteers to work with the GrandFamilies. This intergenerational collaboration is both innovative and provides support for the older adults and their grandchildren. HUSSW Dean Sandra Crewe launched the Grandparent Support Group approximately ten years ago; it has met in different locations around the city and continues, in its latest home, at Plaza West. Many of the grandparents in the group have stayed in contact with each other over the years, and a few of them have moved into Plaza West to be part of GrandFamilies. Several of the grandparents have learned the importance of advocacy, advocating for affordable housing for grandparents and for policy change that would provide subsidies to grandparents raising grandchildren. District of Columbia elected officials heard and heeded this advocacy work, and after several years and continued grandparent testimony, a monthly payment now is afforded to city resident grandparents caring for grandchildren when the parent is absent (DC Child and Family Services Agency, 2020). There are more than 4,300 grandparents raising grandchildren in Washington, DC (Grandfamilies.org, 2017).
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Robert L. Cosby, Jr., MSW, MPhil, PhD, is the assistant dean for administration and director of the Multidisciplinary Gerontology Center at the Howard University School of Social Work.