Pilot Program Aims to Help Grandparents Raising Kids Again

Brianne Hetmen, CEO of Senior Services of Will County, tells how a new pilot program in the county will help elderly relatives raising children find the resources they need to make life easier for them and the children. The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Natalie Manley, left, and signed by Gov. JB Pritzker during the ceremony. To the right is Paula Basta, Director of the state Department on Aging, which will oversee the program.
Brianne Hetmen, CEO of Senior Services of Will County, tells how a new pilot program in the county will help elderly relatives raising children find the resources they need to make life easier for them and the children. The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Natalie Manley, left, and signed by Gov. JB Pritzker during the ceremony. To the right is Paula Basta, Director of the state Department on Aging, which will oversee the program.

By Nick Reiher

Brianne Hetman remembers several years ago, grandparents in their 80s came to Senior Services of Will County to get help.

They were raising their special needs grandchild who was not even 10 years old yet, said Hetman, CEO of Senior Services of Will County.

The organization ran out of its allotted funds to help that family, she said, and was denied additional money.

“So, we used our own funds,” she told a group gathered August 2 in the ballroom of the Grand Haven Lodge in Romeoville to witness Gov. JB Pritzker sign legislation that will help make sure that doesn’t happen again.

House Bill 780 establishes the “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren” pilot program in Will County that when it takes effect Jan. 1, 2024, will works to locate, assist and promote awareness of older caregivers – grandparents, as well as aunts, uncles and other relatives — who are currently raising their family’s children.

State Rep. Natalie Manley sponsored the bill after hearing about the plight of grandparents raising their grandchildren, as well as from some personal experience.

“During COVID, a lot of grandparents were having problems, and when I began helping my daughter and grandson, I became more and more aware of the issues,” said Manley, D-Joliet.

“Think of it. After a long day of dealing with a depressed grandchild, are people in their 80s going to want to sit down in front of a computer and look for resources?”

Manley found a grandparent’s support group, which helped not only her, but turned out to be a treasure of information that helped her develop the pilot program in the bill. Some of the members of the group became part of her Legislative Advisory Committee on the issue.

She also reached out to Hetman at Senior Services to see if she wanted to help come up with the pilot program. Hetman, who had seen the number of grandparents in Will County raising grandchildren increase from 312 to 658 in only a few years, was eager to help.

In his remarks before signing the bill, Pritzker said government is used to acting in silos; not reaching out and working with each other. The pilot program, to be administered by Senior Services in Will County, includes raising awareness about the following programs:

  • The Extended Family Support Program administered by the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS)
  • The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Program administered by the Illinois Department on Aging (IDoA)
  • The Child Only Grants assistance component of TANF program administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS)
  • The Children Health Insurance Program administered by the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS)

State Sen. Meg Loughran Cappel, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said she saw the need for such services as a teacher and as a Joliet Township High Schools board member.

They did what they could within their own constraints to help, said Loughran Cappel, D-Shorewood, but it often wasn’t enough.

“It’s not an easy job to care for our young ones,” she said. “But this program will be helping not only the grandparents, but the children.”

The legislation also includes the creation of a public awareness campaign on services and resources offered by each agency.

Paula Basta, Director of the state Departments on Aging, said the aim of the pilot program is to help the 2.7 million older Illinoisians “who are raising children for the second and maybe the third time.

“And they need a little extra support,” she said. “This will have multi-generational benefits.”

Manley and Hetman said they will need to show the program is working through quarterly reports to the Department on Aging and an annual report to the General Assembly.

The latter will need to include the number of families who received referral, specific services received, and other related information from the intake coordinator during the prior calendar year. The first report will be due by Jan. 1, 2025, and continue through the termination of the pilot program.

Hetman said the legislation allows them to hire a person who will be a liaison for the community and for school districts. They’re used to working with groups for the elderly, she said, but not so much the school-age children who have grandparents or other elderly relatives raising them.

Manley thanked the support group members who were part of the Legislative Advisory Committee, making sure each of them received a pen the governor used to sign the bill.

“They were wonderful,” she said. “We couldn’t have done this without their support. But now, it’s in Senior Services’ hands. And we have to make sure this pilot program works. It’s too important.”

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