Pearlie, aged 59, lives with her two grandchildren, aged 10 and 6, in her East Baltimore, Maryland home. Five years ago, Pearlie took the full time care of the children after domestic violence disrupted their home life.

Pearlie knows well the emotional and physical struggles grandparents face when raising their grandchildren. She has high blood pressure and arthritis. Additionally, she struggles with depression and often can’t get to the doctor to address her medical issues because she puts her grandchildren’s health needs first. Her granddaughter and grandson are both diagnosed with ADHD, are dealing with a variety of grief and loss issues, and need behavioral and educational support.

Some organizations have lent Pearlie their support. For example, Grandparent-Family Connections, a local program that provides up to 6 months of intensive services, gave her short term supportive case management. It helped Pearlie connect with some basic medical care and educational care, but she knows her family needs for ongoing support once these services end. Pearlie recently learned about supports available to grandparents raising grandchildren through her local Area Agency on Aging. Thanks to federal funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program, the agency offers support groups, respite care, and ongoing information and referral services, all of which would be important resources for her. Unfortunately, at 59 years old, Pearlie did not qualify because only individuals 60 years and older could receive services at the time she sought help from the program. Congress recently changed the law, allowing people age 55 and older to qualify. Now Pearlie is eligible to receive a wide range of support to assist her family as needs arise.

Many other caregivers face similar struggles and are younger than 55. Some states have helped ensure younger caregivers of children get services they need by supplementing the National Caregiver Support Program with state funds or other federal sources like the Social Services Block Grant or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.