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Food insecurity is worse for ‘grandfamilies’

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

By Deneece Ferrales

“Grandfamilies” do not often enter our conversations when we discuss the needs of families. Most of the time, grandfamilies are included in the statistics around working families and/or families with children. We do not often distinguish grandfamilies or examine how their needs may differ from other families.

What is a grandfamily? A grandfamily is defined by Generations United as “a family in which children are being raised by relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings) or a close family friend without their parents in the home.” About 2.5 million children are raised by grandfamilies in the United States, GU says.

Anna Futral, executive director of CASA of McLennan County, says about 200 children residing in foster care in McLennan County are placed with grandfamilies. This figure is based on data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. This statistic only measures those children placed with relatives by DFPS. It does not include the many children who live in grandfamilies either due to a missing or deceased parent or through an agreement within the family.

Why is distinguishing grandfamilies important?

Grandfamilies pose some different challenges than traditional families. For example, grandfamilies are often on a fixed income, making taking on the children particularly difficult financially. The choice is made by the family to care for the children so the children may have better outcomes in their lives and so the children can be raised by family members instead of risking out-of-family placement.

While a grandfamily may not have previously struggled, the addition of a child or, in many cases, several siblings can cause serious challenges for persons over 60. Grandparent-headed households are three times more likely to suffer from food insecurity than comparable households with no children.

The problem with food insecurity in grandfamilies is further compounded by the inability for many of these families to access SNAP benefits. Older adults have often accumulated assets throughout their lifespan, and they are using those assets to help them meet their basic needs during their retirement years. Because of rules around SNAP beneficiaries, these assets often prevent grandfamilies from being able to access SNAP benefits. In other words, the families are penalized for having accumulated necessary assets for their retirement years without factoring the impact of adding children to the home.

As our community moves forward in addressing food insecurity, it is important to remember the impact of food insecurity (and other social determinants of health) on grandfamilies. At the policy level, this may mean rethinking the SNAP asset test or finding other ways to respond to the needs of these unique families.

Prosper Waco is pleased to step into this important space for our community as we work with our partners to develop a community-wide vision for a hunger-free Waco.

Deneece Ferrales, Ph.D., is director of health initiatives for Prosper Waco.


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