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Honoring Our Nation's Caregivers

By Kathy Greenlee

“The establishment of the National Family Caregiver Support Program acknowledged the power of the Aging Network and the commitment of our policy leaders, from the White House to Congress, to enable our nation to take an important first step towards supporting families as they care for their much loved members. The Program recognized that families do not wish to abandon those who are unable to live without assistance.
Most American families simply want to be able to sustain their relatives, maintain their own productivity in workplaces and communities, and ensure their family's health and well-being so that long life can present multigenerational opportunities instead of multigenerational risks.” 
Jeanette C. Takamura, former U.S. Assistant Secretary for Aging

Ten years ago, the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) was created to help our nation create systems of support for family members caring for their loved ones. In the development of the legislation, then-Assistant Secretary for Aging Jeanette Takamura heard from caregivers from across the nation who shared their personal experiences in caring for their loved ones at home and in the community for as long as possible.

A decade ago when these conversations were occurring, families were the major providers of long-term care in the United States.  They still are today.  And over the last ten years, the number of older individuals and persons with disabilities in the community has increased.  The baby boomers, the first of whom will turn 65 next year, have added to this surging demographic.  The need for care continues.

While addressing these long-term care needs remains a challenge for our country, we do have reason to celebrate. The NFCSP has made a significant difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of caregivers—providing them with information and assistance, access to services and supports in the community, individual counseling and training, and respite to provide temporary and much needed breaks from caregiving responsibilities.

In 2009, I awarded the first Lifespan Respite Care Grants, as a result of legislation passed by Congress which provides temporary respite services to family caregivers of children or adults of any age with special needs. Currently, 24 states receive funding through this program.

Recognition of caregivers has remained a national priority. President Obama’s FY 2011 Budget Request to Congress for AoA, which contains one of the largest budget increase requests for this agency in over decade, acknowledges the valiant work of family caregivers.  

Of that increase, $102.5 million is for a caregiver initiative—created by Vice President Biden’s Task Force on Middle Class Families—to expand help to families to allow them to better care for their aging relatives and to support seniors trying to remain independent in their communities.

If funded, this increase will support services for nearly 200,000 additional caregivers and provide 3 million more hours of respite care. The Caregiver Initiative provides additional funding for the National Family Caregiver Support Program as well as for community-based services that relieve both the time and financial stress that caring for an aging parent or family member can bring while improving the quality of life for seniors. The initiative will also double the funding for the Lifespan Respite Care program.

I’ve had a chance to meet many caregivers over the last year; some at a Fearless Caregiver Conference.  Meeting with caregivers is always poignant for me. I find the opportunity both heartwarming and heart wrenching.  The compassion of caregiving is the heart and soul of long-term care in this country.

Caregivers are our unsung heroes.  Let’s take time to honor and support them for their service.

For information on how you can find services for a loved one in your community, please call AoA’s National Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 or visit

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