Intergenerational cooperation and collaboration can improve the lives of older and younger Americans. The growing number of older people is a rich bank of human capital. If utilized it can be a great asset to younger people (see also Chapter 1, Government Integrity and Civic Engagement: Volunteering and Civic Engagement). Similarly, younger people have talents and skills that can benefit older adults.
Older people also have a unique role to play as potential caregivers for their grandchildren. Many grandparents are key providers of care. And they can be a stabilizing force for children whose parents have divorced, become incapacitated, or died. Nearly three million children in the U.S. are being raised by a grandparent. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren increased by 16 percent over a decade, from 2.5 million in 2005 to 2.9 million in 2015. This is in part due to the opioid crisis that has left some parents unable to care for their children. According to the 2015 American Community Survey, approximately 2.6 million grandparents are financially responsible for meeting their grandchildren’s basic needs (see also Chapter 6, Low-Income Assistance—Assistance for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children).
One area of particular concern to older people is the legal authority they have as grandparents. Many grandparents or other relatives have partial or total responsibility for children. But they do not have legal authority necessary to provide care. For example, they do not have the authority to enroll a child in school, obtain medical treatment for the child, or petition for visitation rights.
INTERGENERATIONAL COOPERATION: Policy
Encouraging intergenerational cooperation
Policymakers should provide protections for grandparents who are helping to raise grandchildren. Grandparents and other relatives should have the legal authority to make decisions for the children in their care. Grandparents should also be able to petition courts for visitation with grandchildren in cases of divorce, separation of parents, parental incapacity, long-term incarceration, or the death of one or both parents.