Monday, November 12, 2007

New York Times Series on Foster Care

I had a chance to read The New York Times articles this week on the foster care system in New York. It amazes me how a bureaucratic nightmare can jeopardize an entire foster care system and prevent so many kids from finding a permanent home. I really think we have to look at federal subsidized guardianship as part of the solution. Subsidized guardianship removes so much of the unnecessary administrative work for kids who have already found a safe and loving home with a family member and just need a permanency option. And the more kids who find permanent homes, the more resources and energy foster care agencies will have to devote to other kids.

The numbers and percentages of children with grandparents and relatives speak for themselves. In New York 17% of foster children were living with a relative on average between 2001 and 2003. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, almost six million children across the country were living in households headed by grandparents and other relatives.

Just remember… Kids age out of a system. They don’t age out of a family.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Baby Boomer Milestone, A Cause for Celebration and Opportunity

When the ball drops in Times Square this year it will be the start of a new era as the first Baby Boomers are set to retire. Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, born 12:00:01 on January 1, 1946 holds the distinction of being the first Baby Boomer and will soon add the title of the first baby boomer retiree. USA Today and other national media have greeted Ms. Casey-Kirschling’s impending retirement with great fanfare. Others, including my dear old friend Nightly Business Report blogger Darren Gersh have used her milestone to restart the call for drastic changes to Social Security. Darren uses Ms. Casey-Kirschling’s early retirement at 62, before she is eligible for full benefits, as evidence of a lazy and greedy generation set on living off the backs of younger generations. Darren writes, “The largest generation in the history of the United States is about to retire into a system that is not sustainable as currently structured. Yet that generation is not going to be part of the solution.” What I think Darren misses is that the baby boomer are set to give back in record and unprecedented numbers. All 77 million members of the Baby Boomer generation will have passed their 60th birthdays by 2025. If strategically mobilized, older adults can fill gaps in areas such as education, health care, and family support. The net result would be billions of tax dollars saved through wise forethought and planning. Surveys by AARP and Civic Ventures show that Boomers plan a different retirement to their parents: they want to give something back to their communities. More than half of those who want to give back say that helping children and young people is important to them.

When it comes to Social Security reform, it is important to remember that any changes to Social Security must preserve the funding integrity of the program. Social Security is not just an old age pension program; it is also an intricate intergenerational social safety net. Thirty percent of recipients of Social Security are not elderly; they are children and families that receive support through the disability and survivors benefits that keep them out of threatening reach of poverty.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Investment Is About Kids, Not Just The Stock Market

I read Thomas L. Friedman in the NY Times on Sunday. It’s provocative – he warns that we are putting the war on the national credit card for the kids to pay off – but it raises an important point. We should invest now, in our children, for our own sakes, as well as for theirs. Children are yet to make an economic contribution to society, but we care for and educate them because it is the right thing to do. We cannot be sure that our spending will ‘pay off’ in the case of any individual boy or girl, but we know that our society would be poorer without it. Investment is a human issue, not just a financial one.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Out Of The Mouths of Babes

In spite of strong bipartisan and multigenerational support, President Bush today vetoed the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). This program, which has made significant inroads in covering children, needs an urgent cash-injection if it's to keep doing its job. Families across the US are now looking to Washington for a fix. GU will be working hard to help SCHIP survive and thrive, for all their sakes. If want to help us fight for SCHIP drop me an e-mail, or better yet tell your legislators just how important it is.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Movers Are Coming!

I was so incredibly busy last week I hardly had time to get to a keyboard. And this week is not much different: GU is moving house in less than 7 hours! We’ll be on the same phone numbers and e-mail addresses – it’s just our mailing address which will change. We’ll be at 1331 H St NW, rather than 1333!

Anyway, I’m grabbing this chance before my computer gets covered in bubble-wrap to give you some more news from GU’s conference. Our conference opening on Thursday morning was incredibly impressive and moving. The session was opened by Waki (which is a Lakota name meaning Little Thunder) and his three children. They danced up a storm before our first panel. The panel was made up of three incredibly learned American Indian women: Commissioner Quanah Stamps (Administration on Native Americans), Dr Carol Locust (University of Arizona), and Regina Siqueiros (American Indian Language Development Institute). They talked about the importance of intergenerational connections in helping at-risk youth, maintaining community cohesion, and passing on stories and traditions. Discussion of these themes, which are relevant to every community, was a great foundation for the whole conference.

We broke for workshops before returning to the ballroom at lunchtime to hear from LeAnn Thieman, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Grandma’s Soul and six other chicken soup books. LeAnn was inspirational! She encouraged us all to follow our dreams and reach for lofty goals. She spoke not just to the caregivers in the audience, but to the heart and soul of Generations United. I want to give LeAnn my heartfelt thanks for her incredibly generous decision to donate the proceeds of conference sales of Chicken Soup for the Grandma’s Soul to GU.

Well, the movers are coming in just a few hours, so this will have to suffice for now. More – including pictures – to follow!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Conference Catch-Up

Good morning! Donna asked me to catch you all up on activity here at the GU Conference. My name is Vicki Bolton, and I'm GU's Public Policy Manager. Yesterday, Generations United stormed Capitol Hill to educate our legislators and ask them to support intergenerational programs, policies and families. As you can see from the photo, Donna got in a little calisthenics during our advocacy forum!

More than 70 conference attendees toured the Capitol building (and some of us even got to see Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she welcomed new Congressional Pages to the building). Then we headed over to the Rayburn House Office Building for a crash course in advocacy and legislation. I had some worries that between the Capitol Building, three House office buildings and three Senate office buildings, we would lose some of our valuable advocates... I'm pretty sure everyone got safely home (although with over 400 conference attendees it can be a little difficult to tell...) but I know that we had at least one Hill Day casualty. One passionate advocate (who shall remain nameless) ripped his shirt in an 0ver-enthusiastic gesticulation disaster!

We had some really good reports back from meetings with Representatives and Senators. It sounds as though we will have some new co-sponsors for the Kinship Caregiver Support Act, as well as some great support for multigenerational opportunites under the Older Americans Act too.

Anyway - more later...!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Making Memories!

Malta is starting to seem like a distant memory. The IAHSA conference was terrific. A highlight for me was re-connecting with Alexandre "Sasha" Sidorenko who is head of aging programmes for the UN. We first met in 1999 when I was invited to be a part of a UN meeting in Seoul, Korea to help develop a policy framework as a part of the UN Year of the Older Person. Sasha provided a great update about the progress made since the world conference on aging held in Madrid five years ago. You can read about it at

Now that GU has special consultative status with the UN, we discussed meeting to discuss potential collaboration with the aging and children's divisions. That could be really exciting.

In the meantime all of us at GU are buzzing getting ready for our conference which begins next week. I hope we'll be able to welcome you and celebrate our growing field together. We'll be blogging from the conference all week so stay tuned!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Maltese Not At All Cross!

I'm heading to the lovely island of Malta for a few days for the International Association of Homes and Services for the Elderly 7th International Conference. They're blogging the conference, so if you want to know what we're up to, take a look!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Great Loss

It is with great sadness that I share the news of the passing of Janet Sainer, one of our great friends. Janet died June 3 in Denver after being hospitalized during the Brookdale Relatives As Parents Program conference. Although her health had been precarious for some time, the death of such a vibrant, committed leader comes as a shock to us all. This picture, which I cherish, shows Janet and I at the ASA/NCOA conference earlier this year. Thanks to Paul Kleyman sending me a copy - it was taken by Bob Levy at the President's Reception. It's great to have such a special memory on film.

Janet's involvement in the intergenerational field began with her career as a social worker in New York in the early 1950s. She joined the Community Service Society of New York, where she began engaging seniors as resources, based on her hypothesis that many seniors would volunteer to do valuable service if given the opportunity. In 1965, Janet developed a program called Serve and Enrich Retirement by Volunteer Experience (SERVE). Recruiting volunteers for her program from nearby senior centers on Staten Island, NY, Janet began introducing older adults to people with developmental disabilities.

Janet's book, "SERVE" documented the success of her program and served as the platform on which she testified before Congress to get funding for paid staff to develop volunteer programs. SERVE grew into the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and Janet is often referred to as the grandmother of RSVP, which now exists in over 700 sites across the U.S.

Janet's work brought her to the attention of the Mayor. When Ed Koch was elected Mayor of New York City, he appointed Janet to serve as Commissioner of the New York City Department for the Aging, a position she held from 1978-1990. During her tenure, Janet was responsible for starting and expanding many critical programs and services for seniors. She established the New York City Alzheimer’s Resource Center, the first municipal center in the nation to provide free counseling and referral services for Alzheimer’s Disease patients and families, and initiated the annual Mayoral Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, which continues to this day. She also created new linkages among the public, private, and voluntary sectors through the nationally known Citymeals-on-Wheels program, which provides additional meals for the elderly homebound on weekends and holidays. In addition, she developed the Stay-Well health promotion program, minority enhancement services, and a number of intergenerational programs.

Most recently, Janet was a Special Consultant to the Brookdale Foundation, a relationship which began during her years with the City. She focused primarily on the issue of grandparents and other relatives raising children.

Generations United has had the good fortune of partnering with Janet and Brookdale since the mid-nineties, when the issue of grandparents and other relatives raising children began to gain national attention. To the staff of GU, Janet has become more that just a partner, she has become a wonderful friend and part of the GU family. It has been an honor for all of us to work with such an amazing woman and pioneer in the intergenerational field.

She is our hero.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sharing Smiles at the St. Ann Center

Early this week, I had the absolute pleasure of being the keynote speaker at a conference on Intergenerational care at the St. Ann Center in Milwaukee. I spent some time with Sr. Edna Lonergan, the Center’s founder and an extraordinary woman., who gave me a tour of their incredible facility. It was great to see the children visiting and playing with the seniors and the smiles on all their faces proved programs like St. Ann’s are beneficial to so many, young and old alike.
For more information on what the St. Ann Center has to offer, including a video of the site, go to .

Friday, April 06, 2007

GU's Seniors4Kids Captain with Gov. Crist

ELDER Captain, Carolyn Palmer wearing her "I Am a Captain for Kids", after inviting Florida's Governor Charlie Crist, to support degreed teachers in pre-Kindergarten classrooms during Children's Week in Tallahassee March 26th.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Florida's Governor endorses BA degreed teachers for PreK

We salute Governor Crist for speaking in support of high quality early learning for Florida's four-year olds. Like Florida's former governors who serve as honorary co-chairs of Generations United's Seniors4Kids, the current governor recognizes that the most effective preschool teachers are those with at least a four-year degree and specialized training in early childhood. Age 50+ Floridians participating in GU's Seniors4Kids have cause to celebrate Governor Crist's statements, and will continue to educate state legislators about why high quality pre-Kindergarten is so important to them and the future of their state.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Big Mama in Alabama

Check out this UNA faculty member’s blog for the heartbreaking story of Big Mama, a grandparent caregiver. The university is having a Social Work Day and Dr Stanfield is showing the Academy Award winning documentary about Big Mama’s struggle to raise her orphaned grandson.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Reform with a Capitol “R”

What a week we had! On March 15th we held GU’s first hill briefing of 2007, which was held in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts, The Children and Family Research Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, AARP, CLASP, CWLA, CDF, and NICWA. The briefing highlighted the release of a report regarding positive outcomes for children living in relative foster care. Reports like these are helping to dispel the unfortunate misconceptions about grandfamilies, revealing the advantages and benefits of this important permanency option.

I had the pleasure of moderating this special event in our nation’s capital. Accompanied by speakers from the Pew Charitable Trusts, The Center on Children and Family Research, and four special people who shared their personal stories, this briefing was moving and inspiring in equal measure. Special thanks to Brian and Melissa Rote, JJ Hitch, and Harlen Sponaugle who touched the hearts and minds of the audience with their moving, personal stories of trial and triumph. We thank you for standing up and speaking on behalf of the many whose stories go untold.

We were delighted by an unexpected visitor! Pictured on the right are Brian and Melissa Rote with Senator Grassley (R-IA), who dropped by to say hello to his fellow Iowans. GU would like to thank Senator Grassley for attending on such short notice, Senators Clinton and Snowe for providing GU with a great briefing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, and all of our cosponsors for their partnership on this important issue. You might remember that Senators Clinton and Snowe introduced S. 661 earlier this month. Chelsea Maughan from Sen. Clinton’s office stopped by to talk about this legislation so we thank her too.

Let us know if you have any questions about the briefing and click here to access materials!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Generations, United

While we were talking about how children fare in relative care (more on this later, I promise), the Urban Institute and First Focus were talking about how children fare in the federal budget. I share their passionate frustration at our nation’s missed opportunities: the children who do not receive a decent education, the children who die because they can’t get good medical care, the children whose lives are all but stolen from them through poverty and exclusion.

My concern is that the reports tread a barren path. Talking about the needs of children while pointing to rising expenditure on Social Security and Medicare raises the specter of intergenerational conflict. We must recognize that the generations are interdependent. Each new generation can expect to learn, earn and age, all the while standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before them.

Nowhere is this clearer than in family life. One in twelve children lives with a grandparent, and 2.5 million of these children don’t have a parent present in the home. The older generation can also be among the most passionate advocates for children and youth. In Florida, older adults have campaigned for quality pre-K for all children – even when they knew their tax bills could rise to pay for it.

At some time in our lives, all of us will need the support of those around us. Children need our support, our societal investment in their health, education and well-being. And we will all benefit from the investments we make in our children. Older adults may find themselves caught in the twin traps of poverty and ill-health. The older generation has served and paid and earned and saved, and we owe them dignity in return. These twin claims do not compete: we are one society, one family. Our allegiance should not lie with just one generation, but with all those who need a little extra help.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Grandparents' Rock Star

On Monday, I made a dash to New York to join Senator Hillary Clinton in talking about the difficulties faced by grandparents and other relatives raising children, as well as the Kinship Caregiver Support Act (S. 661).

I thanked her for all her work, and spoke about the legislation and how important it is for so many people. We were at the GrandParent Family Apartments, which were designed and built for grandparents raising their grandchildren. It’s a really special place – and I was so excited to meet the families who live there and to see old friends. I want to thank Dave Taylor, whose organization (Presbyterian Senior Services) runs the Apartments, for this picture. Dave, his staff, and their partner organization West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing Inc, did a wonderful job hosting the event. I’m afraid the photo only gives you a glimpse of just how lively and colorful the space is, but I can tell you that it’s a wonderful place, with wonderful families living there.

Actually, the whole visit was incredibly exciting. It was like hanging out with a rock star! Of course, the Senator is often followed by the press, and she has Secret Service protection as well as her staff. People started to gather outside the center when they saw the cars and cameras and someone started a chant: “Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!” She signed photographs and stopped to talk to the crowd: it really was quite an experience!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Another Close Encounter

Senator Hillary Clinton was honored at the Friends of National Service Reception last night for her life-long dedication to citizen service and for outstanding leadership in advancing service as a civic commitment and legislative priority. I had the opportunity to speak to her as she slipped out of the room. I thanked her for her support of the Kinship Caregiver Support Act (due to be reintroduced March 15th - watch this space!). She was very enthusiastic and thanked me repeatedly for mentioning it to her: call me optimistic, but I really think this could be the year! Which reminds me - here's a picture of the two of us having our last 'close encounter' at one of GU's Hill briefings!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Lost Generation

The founder of The Ark Foundation of Africa, Rhoi Wangila, and the program manager, Jennifer Sleboda, came to GU today to tell us about their important work in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Rhoi is pictured here with some of the Maasai children she works with.

I had heard about Rhoi’s work, but it was incredibly moving to hear her tell the story of the birth of Ark. She fled Uganda in the 1980s after several of her family members were murdered during the brutal regime of Idi Amin. Now a US citizen, she is determined to help her beloved home as it struggles with the ravages of HIV and AIDS. She explained how AIDS, like civil war, can rob a country of its strongest generation, leaving the elderly alone to care for the young. She knows this from personal experience: thirty of her first cousins, all professional men and women, have died of HIV/AIDS.

Rhoi gives Americans a unique opportunity to help by adopting an African grandparent family struggling to care for their grandchildren orphaned by HIV and AIDS. The grandparents helped by the Adopt a Grandparent program are caring for an average of five orphans, but some have as many as eighteen children relying on them for their most basic needs.

The Ark Foundation specializes in helping people to help themselves. Another program, Teens Against Aids, trains young orphans as peer educators and gives them the resources they need to go out into the community as educators, as helpers, as friends. Teens Against Aids are acting as mentors to kids whose parents have died. They also help the grandparents raising those kids. Just as in the US, grandparents raising grandchildren can become isolated: a Teens Against Aids volunteer can watch their grandchildren so they can have the time to see their friends or go to the church. A volunteer can help around the home too – just doing the washing for seven children by hand is a daunting task for many older grandparents.

If you want to hear more about this amazing organization, and Rhoi’s work, look at, or go to to buy her book – ‘Africa, AIDS Orphans and their Grandparents’.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Famous For DC (and Massachusetts!)

While stalking the corridors of Capitol Hill on behalf of children in foster care, I got the chance to shake Senator John Kerry's hand. Ever ready, I took the opportunity to give him my 'elevator pitch'. Every little bit helps, right?

Meth Remediation

The Methamphetamine Remediation Research Act of 2007 comes to the floor of the House of Representatives this week. It calls for more research on the environmental and health impacts of former meth labs. Does the danger linger after the lab is gone? I know that it does. And the families affected often need our support for a long time too.

A very brave lady named Charlotte spoke at a briefing we held on the Hill last year, and explained how meth had affected her family, and how it could contaminate homes, as well as lives. She had been jailed for methamphetamine use. Her ex-husband was supposed to be caring for their children, April and Ashley. When the police arrested him for manufacturing meth, the girls got tested too. Ashley, the eldest, had meth in her body. It seeps into everything – furniture, wall paper, carpets, books, everything. And then it seeps into everyone who lives in the house. Her children had to leave behind everything they owned, because everything was contaminated with meth. So when Charlotte’s mother took her granddaughters in, they had nothing – no clothes, no toys, no books… no parents. Grandfamilies like this one know just how important the research proposed in the Act could be.

Charlotte has been clean for three years now, and has her daughters back with her. She is incredibly grateful to her mother for caring for the girls when she wasn’t able to. Now she travels the country telling her story, warning youth groups, supporting prisoners and talking in schools.

Of course, it’s not just meth that can tear a family apart this way – there are as many causes as there are families in need. If you have a story of intergenerational triumph in adversity that you’d like to share, e-mail me.