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Communities need support systems for caregivers.

Traditionally, we have viewed human services involving caregiving as a series of separate programs, often identified by their funding source and the separate populations served by each program. These separately-funded programs include child care, long-term care for the elderly, the rights and needs of the disabled population and family leave, each serving the diverse needs of their particular target population. Often, it is focused only on the social service intervention or government-funded program activity.

Yet, there is one common denominator to all these programs and populations namely, the caregivers with the responsibility for meeting the caregiving needs of all these populations are overwhelmingly women. Caregivers must meet the additional challenge of accessing and coordinating these separate support services in ways that make sense for their families.

During its 1991 research on Creating Violence Free Communities, the WIMG board observed many innovative programs that are addressing the issues facing American families today. Given the tremendous social changes now occurring, including the composition of American families, the WIMG leadership recognized that the old paradigms might be dated and ineffective.

In our upcoming work plan during 1992, WIMG will shift our focus to look at another approach towards achieving "family friendly communities." Our approach is to look at the issues and concerns about the status of American families as they relate to caregiving. Most importantly, the approach realizes a multi-generational responsibility of children, a disabled spouse or relative, and elderly parents. These multiple caregiving responsibilities most often fall on women, although it is also important to remember that some men in both traditional and non-traditional households also are principal caregivers.

Effective comprehensive caregiving policy must deal with the caregiving demands made on women throughout their lives and the "life cycle" of families. The norm is that women will spend 17 years raising their children and 18 years caring for their aging parents and that doesn't even count the care of an aging spouse.

Given this reality, it is equally important to recognize the changing nature of the American workforce and its impact on the family. The nature and cost of caregiving are changing as a result of the increased number of women working and the preponderance of single-parent households. Employers face productivity loss because of caregiving responsibilities of their employees, while working women struggle to resolve conflicts between job responsibilities and family care.

In addition, increases in life expectancy are also increasing caregiving demands on women as our population ages. (Forty percent of Americans in their late fifties have at least one surviving parent.)

Unlike many national problems, the crisis in caregiving cuts across age, income, class and racial lines. When one frames these multi-generational issues in this context, they begin to affect a large percentage of the American population.

By the year 2000, there will be almost 10 million children under the age of five who have working mothers and 33 million children under the age of 15, so called "latchkey children;" and up to 5 million people over the age of 85.

We need a coalition of advocates for these multi-generational populations if the burden of caregiving common to them all is to be eased. Viewing caregiving throughout the life cycle of a family as a single issue provides a unique opportunity for advocates for multiple generation populations to work in tandem. Furthermore, this life cycle approach to caregiving policy could help reduce infighting for funds between advocates of each separate population served, for example, children's programs versus services for elderly Americans.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles and information on caregiving
Author:Davis, Beth Boosalis
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 11, 1992
Words:581
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