• La Shawn L. Splane-Wilburn, Founder of Homagi

Intergenerational Caregiving: What Is It? & Why Policy Changes Are Needed

September is Intergeneration Month, and this is the first in a four(4) part series of Blogs on Intergenerational Caregiving we are doing. As of April 2019 there were 43.5 million caregivers in the US. Some of those caregivers are Mental Health Family Caregivers, or caregivers who care for Loved Ones with a mental illness or disorder diagnosis. Individuals living with a long term mental illness and their family's have certain obstacles to management of the illness(es), one of them being stigma. How mental illness is viewed impacts how people living with a mental illness or disorder are treated, it impacts how policies are put in place or are absent. Healthcare discussions have come a long way for mental health, but there are many more obstacles left to remove. Accessibility, affordability, and reform are left out of discussions. How the criminal justice system has to be reformed and restructured when it comes to how individuals living with mental illness/disorders are treated.

What is Intergenerational Caregiving?

Intergenerational Caregiving is caregiving that occur between generations, "Roles are defined as the set of behaviors or activities enacted within a particular status position in the family. The discussion focuses on roles created by vertical ties in families: between aged parents and adult children, grandparents and grandchildren, and older family members and extended kin...' - The Intergenerational Family Roles of Aged Black Americans (ResearchGate.net)

Caregivers in Generation X happen to be one of the largest group of caregivers due to the large number of Baby Boomers generation. Generation X caregivers have been named the "sandwich generation" because they are caught between caring for their parents and due to the decline of the economy and multiple recessions, having adult children return home. Grandchildren can also be a part of the adult children returning home. Other socio-economic factors contribute to intergenerational caregiving under one roof like, structural and systemic racism which can impacts a family's ability to secure affordable housing. Employment or lack of employment and the families ability to weather financial hardship. The makeup of the families can also be determined by other socio-economic factors like grandparents raising their grandchildren in the absence of the parents due to death, abandonment, drug addiction, or long term illness that impacts the ability to parent. In those family structures there could be a grandparent who is caring for both the grandchildren, and the adult children. Intergenerational caregiving includes, the grandparent, adult children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Cultural factors also influence Intergenerational caregiving. The age at which individuals became parents, if there are two parent households, and if someone was adopted or raised by someone else other than the biological family. Chosen families, in the case of LGBTQ+ persons who may not have the support of biological families and have built their own families. There are so many types of intergenerational caregiving due to the diversity of what family comprises.

What is Policy?

"Policy-making is often undervalued and misunderstood, yet it is the central role of the city, town, and county legislative bodies. The policies created by our local governments affect everyone in the community in some way. Public policy determines what services will be provided to the residents and the level of those services, what kinds of development will occur in the community, and it determines what the community’s future will be. Policies are created to guide decision making. Elected council members of cities, towns, and counties have public policy-making responsibilities. County commissioners also set policy, but have an executive role of administering policy as well. Local policy-making is complex. It demands the very best of local officials. The public policy-making process is highly decentralized. Policy initiation, formulation, adoption, and implementation involve many interests. This process has been characterized as tending to be "fluid, incremental, confused, often disorderly and even incoherent." [Public Policy Making, Washington Style, Bone et. al., p. 4]. And yet, from this, the destiny of a community – the fulfillment of its dreams and aspirations – flow out of the exercise of the policy-making process." - Local Government Policy-Making Process Copyright © 1999 by the Municipal Research & Services Center of Washington. (MRSC.Org)

There are five(5) stages to policy making:

1. Agenda Setting: Public attention focuses on public problem or issue. Officials words and actions help focus attention.

2. Policy Formation: Policy makers in the legislation and the bureaucracy take up the issue. They create legislative, regulatory, or programmatic strategies to address the problem.

3. Policy Adoption: Policy makers formally adopt a policy solution, usually in the form of legislation or rules.

4. Policy Implementation: Government agencies began the job of making the policy work, by establishing procedures, and writing guidance documents, or issuing grants-in-aid to other governments.

5. Policy Evaluation: Policy analyst inside and outside government, determine whether the policy is addressing the problem and wether implementation is proceeding well. They may recommend revisions in the agenda, in the formulation of policy, or in it's implementation.

When all community members aren't informed of the processes of local government and how to effectively use that information to build better policy that supports all community members the equity shifts to those who do, and are more than likely in the positions of power. When some community members are detached from local government they in danger of being abused and exploited by those who do. Vulnerable community members can include Black people and other non-white persons.

Why are Policy Changes Needed for Intergenerational Caregivers?

There are many reasons policy changes are necessary for the quality of life in Intergenerational Caregiving. Caregivers have multiple factors. In the case of Black Caregivers many have to deal with systemic and structural racism that has impacted our communities for generations. Systemic and structural racism has influenced policies within our communities in healthcare, housing, education. policing, economic - including small businesses. What companies build and do business in our communities. Jobs that are available to the people in those communities attached to those businesses. How we shop for food, locations of grocery stores and which ones are in our communities. Environmental, including which companies build their offices in our communities, pollution from companies and manufacturers. Transportation to and from work and school, including blocking or removing exits to main streets in our communities from interstate highways. Costs of transportation and now the new gig economy encouraging exploitation in the form of ride share services. Redirecting tourism away from our communities as banks aren't loaning money to the community members to build hotels or restaurants which drive tourism.

Criminal justice plays a significant role in the suffering of Intergenerational Caregivers, especially mental health family caregivers due to jails being used to house persons with mental illness, versus implementing programs and resources which would offer more of a quality of treatment which could positively impact the individuals life and health as well as the communities they live in.

Another factor is economic. Intergenerational caregivers are susceptible to lower wage jobs in at risk communities. Jobs which offer very little relief from the cost of living, little to no insurance, and very little in the way of support for caregivers needing time off work. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which would offer assistance to a caregiver should they need to take off work, may not always secure their job, or even offer very much in compensation while away from work. Meaning no money to support the family while the caregiver, who may also be the sole income earner/source, is supporting the loved one who needs help.

Housing is another factor in the need to create more informed and affective policy(ies) within the at risk communities of Intergenerational Caregivers. The lack of affordable housing in at risk communities of intergenerational caregivers is another problem. With the average cost of housing being $200,000.00(zillo.com) and the average cost of renting being $1,468.00(Statista.com), housing is out of reach or at risk for many caregivers. Homeless shelters are becoming less and less available as funding shrinks, or in some communities isn't available at all. What happens to caregivers who can't maintain housing for themselves and those they care for? Some may wind up losing custody of small children to child protective services or having a loved ones care turned over to the state, while they live in their cars or on the street.

Caregiving isn't always planned, it can happen with a sudden onset of an illness. People having to leave their full time jobs to care for loved ones aren't always financially secure. Caregiving of any sort can come in an unnatural order and disrupt a family's ability to function as it had before the abrupt onset of an illness. With so many negative socio-economic factors contributing to the stress of the intergenerational caregivers there is an increase of health risk that go along with the weight of supporting a loved one with a long term illness(es) like mental illness.

This isn't just a "their" problem. This is a community problem. It's a states problem. It's a country's problem. It requires good stewards in communities to step forward and be partners with the other members of their communities to ensure all members have a quality of life. That at risk communities aren't left behind. Understanding policy and how it flows is important, but most important is the civic responsibility of us all to ensure we are doing the very most possible to create equity for all members of our communities. Who's making decisions in our communities matter. Who's running for office matters. We don't need people who are out of touch with the needs of ALL individuals in the communities they are running for office in. It's a public hazard when greedy self serving politicians get into office, as we have witnessed the last four years under the current administration. How we vote matters. How policy is implemented in our communities matter. The lives of the community members matter. Accountability is on all of us, and most importantly those of us with privilege, social, and economic capital.

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