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New commission aims to remove obstacles for grandparents raising children

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – With the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren in Alabama increasing in recent years, a new commission aimed at removing obstacles grandparents or other family members encounter when trying to raise young children held its inaugural meeting this week.

“What we’re trying to accomplish on this commission is we want to find out what the obstacles are for both the children and the grandparents who are raising the grandchildren,” said Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Baileyton, the chair of the commission. 

“We want to know what the obstacles are, and see if there are ways that we, as a commission, can remove as many of those as we can.”

Rep. Randall Shedd.

Nearly 160,000 children in Alabama live in homes where a relative is the head of the household, and about 59,000 grandparents are fully responsible for raising their grandchildren in Alabama, per data compiled by the nonprofit organization Grand Families. Nationally, there are more than 2.5 million grandparents who carry the primary responsibility of caring for their grandchildren, with about a third of grandchildren living with their grandparents being under six years old.

Dubbed the Commission on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, the group was created in June through a House joint resolution sponsored by Shedd, and consists of a number of experts in the field, some of whom had first-hand experience raising their own grandchildren.

“I am the grandmother of four, but one of those four – my grandson – I had the privilege of raising him,” said Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville. “I didn’t consider it a privilege at the time since he was only six-months old. Now he is 31, he has a real job, paying for his own things, and I hope he’s eventually out of nana’s pocket.”

Another commission member, Alabama Senior Services Commissioner Gene Brown, noted some of the unique challenges older Alabamians can face when being responsible for a child, particularly in the modern world.

“My personal opinion is that these grandparents and family caregivers are saints; most of them never thought in their golden years they would be caring for young children, and everything that that entails,” Brown said.

“More living space, bigger food and household budgets, becoming familiar with social media… I mean imagine what a challenge that can be and all the mental health issues that presents.”

While the inaugural meeting did not see members address or discuss any one particular issue, members did appoint Shedd as the commission chair, and stated their intent to hold a series of public hearings across the state to hear from grandparents and other family members raising children.

After the meeting, Shedd told Alabama Daily News that one of his biggest hopes for the commission was for members to produce better communication between agencies that often interact with grandparents raising children, including schools and courts.

“One of the most important things I think we’ll see out of this is inter-agency communication, particularly with the court system, and then the school systems,” he said.

Per the resolution, the committee will produce a report on its findings and recommendations to the Alabama Legislature by the third day of the 2024 legislative session, after which it will be dissolved. However, Shedd said if members decide they need more time, an extension can be requested.

While no dates have been set for the public hearings, they’re expected to take place over the coming months and be complete by the beginning of the next legislative session in early 2024.

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