Families provide much of the financial and emotional support needed to help older adults continue to live independently in the community. To perform their role as caregiver, families often rely on external supports such as social services or social insurance entitlements, and many have no guarantee that they will receive assistance when it is needed (NASW, 2000).
The Older Americans Act (OAA) of 1965 (P.L. 89-73) is the public policy that provides the basis for a substantial portion of community aging services for older adults in the United States. Traditionally, the Older Americans Act, did not call for services or programs that would provide direct assistance to family caregivers. The demographics of U.S. society have changed considerably since the OAA’s inception in 1965, resulting in a shift in the way society, public policy, and social work professionals must address the needs of older adults and their caregivers.
The National Association of Social Workers places a high priority on supporting and strengthening families (NASW, 2000). The National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) is a beginning step toward recognizing and meeting the needs of family caregivers. The purpose of this practice update is to provide a starting point for discussion and guidance about the NFCSP, which is the most recent amendment of the Older Americans Act. A general overview of the program and resources are provided to help social work professionals better assist clients with access to the services they need and deserve.
What is the National Family Caregiver Support Program?
In November 2000 Congress reauthorized the Older Americans Act and created the National Family Caregiver Support Program, an important program designed to help family members provide care for an older adult at home. The NFCSP was developed by the Administration on Aging (AoA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The principle component of the program calls for all states to work in partnership with local Area Agencies on Aging and other service providers to put the services under this program into place. The five basic services outlined under the NFCSP are as follows (AoA, 2001):
- information for caregivers about available services
- assistance to caregivers in gaining access to services
- individual counseling, organizing of support groups, and caregiver training to assist caregivers in making decisions and solving problems relating to their caregiving role
- respite care to help temporarily relieve caregivers from their caregiving responsibilities
- supplemental services, on a limited basis, to complement the care provided by caregivers.
Who is eligible to receive services from the National Caregiver Support Program?
- family caregivers of older adults
- grandparents and relative caregivers of children not more than 18 years of age (including grandparents who are sole caregivers of grandchildren and the individuals who are affected by mental retardation and developmental disabilities).
According to the AoA (2001), "there is no requirement that the grandchildren have a disability. Under the NFCSP, states may design services for grandparents or older individuals who are relative caregivers. In these instances, the grandparent or relative caregiver must be an older individual (60+), who lives with the child, is primary caregiver of the child, and has a legal relationship to the child or is raising the child informally. The child must be not more than 18 years old." (p. 2)
Other components of the NFCSP include grants for innovative projects that would improve the delivery of information and services to older Americans and a new program to support family caregivers of Native American elders. Although the details are still unclear, it is expected that the AoA will issue more information about implementation of these provisions in the near future.