HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday signed two bills – now Acts 88 and 89 – into law that will support grandparents raising grandchildren, many because of the opioid epidemic.
“Grandparents are stepping up to take care of their grandchildren as a result of the devastating opioid crisis or other difficult circumstances,” Wolf said.
“And we need to make sure they have our full support as caregivers and legal guardians of children, the most innocent bystanders. Acts 88 and 89 support grandparents by providing ways to better navigate the system of supports and services and helping them care for their grandchildren with fewer barriers to resources.
“The grandparents I have sat down and talked with are making sacrifices to help their families and communities and they should be accessing all the resources available to help them.”
House Bill 1539 (Act 88 of 2018), sponsored by Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, grants temporary guardianship in 90-day increments for up to one year to grandparents or other family members when the child(dren)’s parents are not able to care for them.
The temporary guardianship gives grandparents the right to make vital, basic decisions for their grandchildren, such as the ability to take a child to the doctor or enroll them in school.
It does so while it protects the parental rights of parents, including those suffering from opioid addiction, and considers the needs of the child to be with loving family members, rather than in foster care or another arrangement.
House Bill 2133 (Act 89 of 2018), sponsored by Rep. Kathy Watson, establishes the Kinship Caregiver Navigator Program, an informational resource for grandparents and other family members, both as a Web site and a toll-free hotline.
The Web site will offer information on support and services available, and a specially trained navigator will provide support and guidance to a kinship caregiver and serve as a mediator to establish relationships between kinship caregivers and relevant federal, state and local agency staff.
“Across the commonwealth, grandparents are faced with stepping in to raise their grandchildren more and more because parents are falling victim to the opioid crisis,” said Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne.
“As the State Unit on Aging, we applaud the legislature for passing HB 1539 and 2133 and driving this much-needed change as together we work to fight this epidemic and provide needed support to grandparents who find themselves parenting for the second time around.”
The Wolf Administration recently announced it was awarded a $479,307 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families to develop a kinship navigator program. The grant will help further support grandparents, other family members and children affected by the opioid crisis.
“It is a tremendous undertaking for anyone to step-in as a parent when a relative is struggling with addiction or cannot effectively parent for some other reason,” said Joan Benso, president and chief executive officer of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
“But we know that children who are placed in informal kinship care are less likely to end up in foster care and will experience better outcomes when they are living with a relative or someone they know.
“Governor Wolf, Representative Pashinski, Representative Watson and other policymakers recognized the unique challenges these families face and took action.
“Now, these kinship caregivers will have more of the tools they need to raise the children in their care, including the 76,000 grandparents caring for over 83,800 grandchildren in Pennsylvania.”
“These new laws bring a measure of relief to grandparents raising their grandchildren,” said Angela M. Liddle, president and CEO of PA Family Support Alliance. “Lawmakers listened to their impassioned voices and acted.
“We thank Gov. Wolf for his commitment to address the significant challenges facing grandfamilies. We know children who cannot be with their parents are physically and emotionally healthier when they are with their grandparents or other kin.
“This legislation helps keep children out of the foster care system and gives them a better chance of a brighter, healthier, and safer future.”
“These two pieces of legislation will be a tremendous help to those grandparents who assume primary caregiver responsibilities for their grandchildren as a result of the opioid epidemic or other family crisis,” said AARP Pennsylvania State Director Bill Johnston-Walsh.
“The number of grandparents raising grandchildren in Pennsylvania is expected to increase, and we must continue working to provide these families with the support they need.”