Older Adults

Ohio kinship care during the pandemic

September 28, 2020
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As my children returned to their virtual classrooms, we often work alongside each other. And while headphones have become a necessity for all of us, sometimes we take them off so I can hear instructions from the teacher. One thing I appreciate from my children’s teachers is the recognition of all types of families and living situations. I hear this in the language they use. Instead of using “parent” I often hear, “the adult working with you” or “someone at your house who can help you.” This type of inclusive language applies to children living with, and being cared for, by grandparents, foster parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings as well as those who live with their biological parents.

 About 4 percent of children under age 18 live with someone other than a parent.

Nationally, about 4 percent of children under age 18 live with someone other than a parent. The percentage is higher for Black children, with 7 percent living with a non-parental relative or non-relative. White and Hispanic children live with someone other than a parent 3.3 and 3.5 percent of the time. In Ohio, this arrangement is often referred to as Kinship Care. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services defines Kinship Care as “a temporary or permanent arrangement in which relative or any non-relative adult who has a long-standing relationship or bond with the child and/or family, has taken over the full-time, substitute care of a child whose parents are unwilling or unable to do so.”

Percent of children who live with someone other than a parent [1]
All Children 4.03%
Black Children 7.05%
Hispanic Children 3.57%
White Children 3.57%

Health concerns  

Many family members and non-relatives step in to provide kinship care, including grandparents. According to the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 196,000 Ohioans under age 18 live with their grandparents. Of the children who live with grandparents, more than half are school age, between six and 18 years old. While there have always been challenges caring for grandchildren, the onset of COVID-19 has brought on a new set of issues -- including health concerns, isolation and virtual schooling. Existing Kinship Care programs ease some of these challenges for these  


grandfamillies, and as with many social service programs, the pandemic has placed strain on the system and made clear a need for increased support.

 An estimated 196,000 Ohioans under age 18 live with their grandparents

Early on in the pandemic it became clear that older adults experienced more severe COVID-19 symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), compared to young adults (between the ages of 18 to 29), older adults are at a higher risk of both hospitalization and death as a result of COVID-19.[2] The risk increases with age. While the science of understanding COVID-19 is continually evolving, one thing that has become clear is that in addition to age, chronic health conditions common in older adults such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and chronic kidney disease result in more severe cases of COVID-19.

Age Range Hospitalization Death
18-29 Comparison Group Comparison Group
50-64 4x higher 30x higher
65-74 5x higher 90x higher
75-84 8x higher 220x higher
85+ 13x higher 630x higher

As the world became aware of the seriousness of living in a pandemic, grandparents raising their grandchildren had to consider who would care for their grandchildren if they become to ill to do so themselves. With the child’s parents unlikely to be a source of care, the older adults had to carefully consider who would step in. Grandfamilies.org, a national legal resource in support of grandfamilies, recommended the creation of a “Secondary Permanency Plan.” Depending on the age of the child, the grandparent and grandchild develop a plan for care should the grandparent become sick. These plans provide reassurance to both the grandparent and the grandchild. However, for many families the grandparent was the final option and if they are no longer able to care for the child, custody is relinquished to the county so the child can be placed into a foster family. One way grandfamilies have responded to the increased risk COVID-19 poses for older adults is to eliminate or greatly restrict the interactions they and the children they care for have outside of their households. While necessary and protective of physical health, this has had the secondary effect of increasing the risk of social isolation.  


In September of this year, I spoke with administrators of the Caregiver Support Program and Kinship Navigator Program at the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio about what impact COVID-19 has had on grandparents raising grandchildren in their Kinship Navigator Program. Many of the programs that had been in place to help multigenerational families had been halted and the administrators were concerned about the isolation of the families. They began to think of ways to maintain connections without in-person visits. With grant funding, the agency is in the process of designing a six-month pilot program that will distribute internet-enabled tablets to older adults in Caregiver Support and Kinship Navigator programs. The goal of this program is to reduce social isolation by reducing the digital divide and increasing the technological skills of older adults.  

The Lorain County Council on Aging has experienced success maintaining connection with families through virtual support groups. While they had considered meeting outdoors with proper social distancing, the administrators of the program decided it was important to work out any technological bugs now before the weather turns and many retreat to the indoors for the majority of the time. Prior to the pandemic, support groups regularly had anywhere from four to eight caregivers participate; currently virtual groups average between four and five caregivers. Connection is key to prevent and reduce isolation and associated negative outcomes. Staying connected can also help the kinship caregivers support their children by asking and receiving guidance on issues related to caregiving, including virtual schooling.

 Forty-nine percent of the school districts in Ohio started the school year either remotely or in a hybrid model.

Virtual schooling  

Although it has just started, the 2020 school year has been the most challenging in recent history for many families, including those who provide kinship care. Forty-nine percent of the school districts in Ohio, which include approximately 778,000 school children, started the school year either remotely or in a hybrid model. Synchronous learning, asynchronous learning, remote, hybrid, parent-led, blended, virtual, in- person; an entirely new language has emerged just in how we talk about the school day. In addition to the new language to learn, many families are learning how to use new educational platforms which vary greatly by school district, grade of student, and specific teacher. All of this is on top of being able to access consistent and reliable technology and Wi-Fi. Kinship care families, particularly those led by adults who are not familiar or comfortable troubleshooting technological issues, need support to assist their learners as well as support dealing with the emotional toll remote schooling takes on a family. As a person currently in a family managing remote schooling, I am intimately aware of how emotionally draining it is for every member of the family, even when things are going as they should. Grandparents raising grandchildren often do so suddenly and unexpectedly and are not likely to have the wealth of information needed at their fingertips. Fortunately, programs exist to help them and other kinship caregiver adapt to their new roles.

 Fortunately, programs exist to help them and other kinship caregiver adapt to their new roles.

Kinship Care Support programs  

In the most recent biannual state budget, Ohio allocated funding for a Kinship Navigator program designed to provide information and services to Kinship Care providers. This funding has been used to develop the Ohio Kinship and Adoption Navigator Program (OhioKAN). The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services worked with Kinnect Ohio to develop a framework for OhioKAN which will provide a range of services throughout the state. The goal is to provide information to kinship families, connect them to local services and to collaborate with social service agencies to offer support plans, case management and individualized services. OhioKAN will roll out in phases across the state beginning fall 2020, and work alongside existing kinship support programs including those offered through the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP).  

The NFCSP, funded through the Older Americans Act, provides support for caregivers of all types through the region’s Area Agency on Aging (AAA). Each AAA can determine how to design programs based on the needs of the community. Supportive services are generally provided for both caregivers of adults and kinship caregivers. The support can include information about services, assistance in gaining access to services, individual counseling, support groups, caregiver training, respite care, and limited supplemental services.  

OhioKAN and NFCSP offer supportive services to kinship families, however they do not directly address the financial stress of growing a family through kinship care, and the anxiety caregivers face figuring out how to best care for everyone. One support that can ease the emotional stress of family life, whether in a pandemic or not, is having financial security. While programs currently exist to increase the financial security of some kinship families, the state has been mandated by a federal court ruling to provide more.

 The Kinship Permanency Incentive Program is a statewide program that provides “time-limited incentive payments” to kinship caregivers.

The Kinship Permanency Incentive Program is a statewide program that provides “time-limited incentive payments” to kinship caregivers. Families receive an initial payment to defray costs of placement and may receive up to six months of financial support of $300 per month. The kinship care provider must have been awarded legal custody or guardianship of the child in order to qualify for financial assistance and total family income cannot exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level. While undoubtedly helpful, this program provides substantially less financial assistance than is provided to families who foster children. A 2017 federal court case, D.O. v Glisson, heard in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that kinship families should receive the same amount of financial assistance as foster families, which can be up to $6,000 per month for children with special needs. To date, Ohio has yet to comply with the federal ruling, and families who step in to care for children are not given the financial support they are entitled to receive. At a time when half of the families in the state are separated from many of the supports schools provide, kinship families in particular could use additional financial assistance to ease some of the increased costs and stress of having children home all of the time.

[1] https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/families/children.html  

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/investigations-discovery/hospitalization-death-by-age.html

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