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Grandparents and Older Caregivers Raising Children

In Illinois, over 100,000 grandparents are caring for their grandchildren on a long-term basis, opening their hearts and homes to their grandchildren for reasons including the death, illness or incarceration of the child’s parents; the abuse or neglect of the children; substance abuse; unemployment or poverty and teen pregnancy.

There are many resources and programs in place to help; however, navigating the system may sometimes feel like an overwhelming task. These resources are a good starting point for grandparents and older caregivers who are again raising children.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren in Illinois program
The Illinois Department on Aging’s Grandparents and other Relatives Raising Grandchildren Program offers:

  1. Information to caregivers about available services;
  2. Assistance to caregivers in gaining access to services;
  3. Individual counseling, support groups and caregiver training;
  4. Respite care to enable caregivers to be temporarily relieved from their caregiving responsibilities; and 
  5. Supplemental services, on a limited basis, to complement the care provided by caregivers or address a short-term caregiver emergency.

Local Area Agencies on Aging plan and coordinate services and programs for older caregivers across Illinois. View the Illinois map to find the agency nearest you.

Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and Illinois Department on Aging Collaboration
The department has recognized the advantage of collaborating with the Department on Aging and has entered into an agreement that allows workers at both agencies to cooperate with each other to support older caregiver families when appropriate.

Custodial Back-up Plan
A Custodial Back-up Plan allows families to decide who will care for minor children in the event of a caregiver's illness, death or incapacity. In the Chicago area, the Center for Law and Social Work provides low cost legal and social services to assist the families in this planning. In other areas of the state, local Area Agencies on Aging can recommend local service providers. Types of back up planning include Standby Adoption, Standby Guardianship and Short-term Guardianship

The DCFS Advocacy Office
The DCFS Advocacy Office for Children and Families works as a liaison between the Illinois Department on Aging and DCFS. The Advocacy Office offers assistance to older caregivers with issues involving the children who have been placed with them.

Extended Family Support Program (EFSP)
The Extended Family Support Program, available via referral from DCFS or IDoA  caregiver specialists (see your local Area Agency on Aging), provides short-term help to stabilize relative households caring for children. If a call is accepted, the Extended Family Support Program will help:

  • Relative caregivers to obtain private guardianship of the child;
  • Relative caregivers obtain grants and other entitlements from the Department of Human Services;
  • Get children enrolled in school;
  • The family get basic goods and services needed to make a home for the child; and
  • Link the family to community resources to meet other needs.

For more information, read the Extended Family Support Program brochure in English and en español.

Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
You do not have to be a guardian of the child to receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and your income and assets are not counted in the child's eligibility. There are two types of TANF assistance: Child Only Grants and Regular TANF Grants.

Child Only Grants provide, regardless of the grandparents' or other relative caregiver’s income, a small grant of approximately $100 per month. Children receiving this grant automatically qualify to receive medical assistance. If the grandparent is working, the child may also qualify for day care assistance. Eligible children can receive monthly assistance until they reach the age of 18.

Regular TANF Grants are available if grandparents have a limited income. This amount is greater than the child-only grant. Grandparents are then subject to work participation requirements. The benefits are limited to a period of five years.

Social Security
A grandchild may be eligible for benefits on the work record of a parent. If the child is not eligible for benefits based on the work record of the parent, and if one of the parents is deceased or disabled, the grandchild may be considered a "child" of a retired grandparent for the purposes of benefits. The grandparent would then receive dependent benefits for the grandchild in addition to the grandparent's regular benefits.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps, helps low-income individuals buy food. The benefits are provided on the Illinois Link Card, an electronic card that is accepted at most grocery stores.

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
A low-income guardian of a child under five years of age may be eligible for WIC assistance. WIC provides special checks to buy healthy foods - like milk, juice, eggs, cheese, cereal, dry beans or peas and peanut butter.

Medical insurance
There are several sources for medical insurance for a grandchild. First, a grandparent's employer-provided health insurance plan may provide benefits to dependents. Second, if a grandparent is receiving the TANF "child only" grant, the child will qualify for Medicaid. Third, if the grandparents are low-income, the Illinois AllKids program offers health care coverage to children.

Child Support
In order to collect child support for a grandchild, there generally must be some type of order entered as to custody. If so, a grandparent may contact the child support enforcement agency for his or her respective county.

Need help or want to know more?
For more information, read the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren brochure in English or en español.