On May 10th, 2017, the 5th National GrandRally in Washington, DC, brought grandparents and relative caregivers together from across the U.S. in order to lift up the critical role all caregivers play in providing safe and loving families for children.

According to the official GrandRally 2017 website, the purpose of the National GrandRally is to “elevate the critical role grandparents and other relatives play in providing safe, loving, permanent families for children and the policy changes needed to effectively support them while building and strengthening a community of hope.” The 90 minute GrandRally on Capitol Hill effectively does this by featuring Members of Congress, successful caregivers and children in grandfamilies. It also highlights key advocacy messages relevant to a new Congress and Administration.

Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina staff traveled with Foundation grantee Helping and Lending Outreach Support (HALOS), a Charleston based organization dedicated to providing support and advocacy to abused and neglected children and kinship caregivers, and 20 South Carolina caregivers to attend the rally and visit with state policy makers.

In South Carolina, over 50,000 grandparents have primary responsibility for their grandchildren. There is also the growing number of extended family members or close family friends who care for a relative’s child. This practice is often referred to as kinship care and, in recent years has become known as a better alternative than placing children in the foster care system. However, many kinship families face obstacles and challenges due to the unanticipated responsibility of grandparents and other relatives having to raise a child. An alarming amount of kin caregivers experience poverty or are considered low income.

On the seven-hour bus ride to D.C., members of HALOS staff and the Foundation team worked with caregivers to create their stories for the policy makers that they hope to educate.  Not only did the caregivers share their personal journeys to being a kinship care provider, but they also highlighted essential federal policies and programs that must be strengthened to effectively support kinship families while building a community of hope. Each caregiver had a few minutes to share their journey and hopes for the future of kinship care.

Though each caregiver’s story differs, they all share the same threads: keeping family together and children out of foster care, the struggle to make ends meet as retired individuals on fixed incomes, and not a one of them would hesitate to do it again if asked.

The group from S.C. met with staffers from Senator Lindsey Graham’s office, staffers from Representatives James E. Clyburn’s office and with a staff from Senator Tim Scott’s office as well as Scott himself, for a brief meet and greet. The caregivers were well-received and provided essential information to our legislators.

To learn more about South Carolina’s specific data and programs serving kinship families, read these grandfacts produced by grandfamilies.org with the support of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina.