CSUN received a $165,756 grant from the Eisner Foundation to take a serious look at the programs offered by one of the county’s largest providers of services to grandparents and other family caregivers, the nonprofit Grandparent as Parents (GAP).
Are the needs of grandparents and other relatives who care for children truly being met in Los Angeles County?
Researchers at California State University, Northridge have received a $165,756 grant from the Eisner Foundation to answer that question and others, as they take a serious look at the programs offered by one of the county’s largest providers of services to grandparents and other family caregivers, the nonprofit Grandparent as Parents (GAP). Once completed, the researchers will use their study as a catalyst for a conference on understanding the needs of this underserved and growing population.
“What’s amazing about this collaboration is that there is no ego involved,” said Julie Gould, a member of CSUN’s Department of Social Work who is working on the project. “GAP wants an honest assessment of what they are doing right and what they can improve on, and they are willing to share what we learn with other agencies so that grandparents and other relative caregivers can get access to the best programs and services possible.”
GAP founder Sylvie de Toledo and Executive Director Carmen Garcia Hoffman said they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The need for intergenerational support groups and services is too immense not to allow an evaluation of our services,” Hoffman said. “An evaluation of our services will ensure that we are truly meeting the needs of caregivers, which is our mission. An evaluation like this has never been done before, and we’re very open to doing it and then to go forward and share what they find.”
De Toledo agreed.
“We have a passion for what we do and we want to do it better, serve more families and improve the quality of the lives of families who take on the responsibility of becoming caregivers,” she said. “It’s important that caregivers know that they are not alone. There is help available, and their feelings of being on a rollercoaster are perfectly normal.”
Gould and a team of faculty and student researchers from CSUN’s Michael D. Eisner College of Education, Mike Curb College of Arts, Media, and Communication, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Institute of Community Health and Wellbeing, and the institute’s Neighborhood Partners in Action program will meet this spring with GAP staff and its clients to assess GAP’s services and programs.
Once the assessment is done, university representatives will host a retreat for GAP’s leadership and help them develop a strategic plan for going forward, said CSUN sociology professor David Boyns, director of the Institute for Community Health and Wellbeing.
“The third component of the grant happens in the fall, when we host a large conference focused on intergenerational studies,” Boyns said. “At the conference, we are going to take the data from what we’ve learned from GAP and share strategies and experiences that everyone can learn from.”
In their application to the Eisner Foundation, university officials pointed out that in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys alone, 24.6 percent of all children are being cared for by grandparents. Nationwide, the number of grandparent-headed households has doubled since the 1970s from 3 percent to 6 percent — and approximately one in three grandparent-headed households have no parents present.
“People don’t realize how pervasive intergenerational caregiving is, and how isolated the caregivers feel,” Hoffman said. “There are so many people out there who either know someone who is doing this, or they, themselves, were raised by a family member who was not their parent. Culturally, in a lot of families, it’s just what you do. Regardless, so many people don’t realize that they are not alone, that they are not the only ones doing this.”
Founded in 1987, GAP provides direct and indirect services to grandparents and other relative caregivers throughout Los Angeles County and in Ventura County. GAP annually serves approximately 1,400 family caregivers — of which 55 percent are caregivers over the age of 62 —and 2,100 at-risk children ranging in age from infants to teenagers.
“The work GAP is doing meets an important need, and CSUN recognizes the remarkable commitment GAP has shown to all families that it serves,” Boyns said. “The impact of our nation’s children being increasingly raised by caregivers will be long lasting and far reaching. The work we’re doing with this grant is one way of trying to ensure that their needs are met.”
The Eisner Foundation was started in 1996 by Michael D. Eisner, then-chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, and his wife Jane in order to focus their family’s philanthropic activities. The Eisner Foundation gives an estimated $7 million per year to nonprofit organizations based in Los Angeles County. In 2015, The Eisner Foundation became the only U.S. funder investing exclusively in intergenerational solutions.