Since the early 1990’s, PSS has been a pioneer in serving older grandparents who unexpectedly found themselves raising grandchildren on their own. It has offered these “kinship caregivers” a continuum of services: case assistance, support groups, access to legal services, training, entitlement assistance, etc. Mindful that both generations need assistance, it also offers family counseling, liaison with the schools, summer camp, and an afterschool “Life Enrichment Program” for children and teens. In 2005, PSS partnered with the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing to open the Grandparent Family Apartments (GFA) — the first residence of its kind in the U.S. The 50-unit building, located in the South Bronx, has become an international model for kinship housing and supportive services, and serves as a hub for PSS’s Strengthening Grandparent-led Families program.
Through its work providing caregiver services in the Bronx and involvement with grandparent-led families, PSS has begun serving a relatively unknown and underserved demographic group: youth caregivers. Youth caregivers provide care for frail grandparents, disabled siblings, chronically ill parents, etc. They are often responsible for meal preparation, translating at doctor visits, dispensing medications, house cleaning, even helping with physical activities, including lifting and dressing. These youth experience considerable stress, tend to miss more days of school and have more difficulty with peer relationships.
According to the American Psychological Association, at least 1.4 million children in the U.S. between the ages of 8 and 18 provide care for an older adult or a sibling, including approximately 400,000 youngsters who are between the ages of 8 and 11. A report from the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) showed that youth caregivers typically live in lower income households where one third are caring for a grandparent and another third for a parent, with two-thirds of these young caregivers living in the same home as the one for whom they are providing care. About half (49%) of the youth report that they spend “a lot of time” caregiving. Many of the children and youth are performing tasks that go beyond routine chores and require levels of responsibility traditionally assumed by adults
Most youth caregivers report feeling isolated as their own problems go unrecognized. Just as adult caregivers miss, struggle with or stop working, youth caregivers are late for or miss school, have difficulty completing homework, and may even quit school to help out at home. The majority cannot participate in age-appropriate activities. These caregiving children need recognition, information, practical training on running a household and caregiving, understanding at school, homework help, peer friendships, social/recreational activities and opportunities to “just be kids.”
PSS staff has extensive experience in addressing the needs of youth caregivers in grandparent-led families, and it is now launching a new school-based initiative for all youth caregivers. PSS partnered with the American Association of Caregiving Youth (www.aacy.org) in 2012. AACY Founder and President Connie Siskowski met with PSS staff and provided an overview of AACY’s support program. PSS then began exploring how to reach out and serve caregiving youth in the Bronx.
In 2013, PSS Deputy Director Katherine Martinez and her staff began working with a public middle school (MS212) in the South Bronx. They collected 122 surveys from sixth, seventh and eighth graders. 57 of the 122 respondents (47%) identified themselves as being a caregiver. 25 of the 57 youth caregivers assisted an adult with at least one activity of daily living (ADL) such as feeding, cooking, bathing, and so on. Five youths (10% of the total) were responsible for three or more ADLs.