What Is the National Family Caregivers Support Program?

Updated

Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

Our country is in desperate need of caregiver support, and no one understands that better than the approximately 53 million caregivers in the US. Caregiving is a broad term that is so variable in terms of caregiving duties and tasks that it is difficult to define who is a caregiver. We generally think of caregivers for older adults as being older themselves, but this is not always the case. More and more younger people are taking care of parents and grandparents.

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Unfortunately, the nature of caregiver support is confusing and disorganized, which places additional stress and strain on family caregivers. There is support out there but finding it can be challenging. The National Family Caregiver Support Program is an effort by the federal government to assist families in finding caregiver resources in their community. From a caregiver’s perspective finding support can be time-consuming, but it is well worth the effort once you can connect to what is available. 

Overview of the National Family Caregivers Support Program

The National Family Caregiver Support Program is administered by the Administration for Community Living (ACL). The ACL is a program of the United States Government that awards grants to state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, institutions of higher education, and small businesses. 

The purpose and philosophy of the ACL and the awarded grants are to support older adults and people of all ages with disabilities to choose where they live. Along with choosing where they live, the ACL supports the idea that older adults should decide who they live with and have the opportunity to participate fully in their communities. To live in their communities, older adults need ongoing support.

What’s the Purpose of the National Family Caregivers Support Program?

The purpose of the National Family Caregivers Support Program is rooted in the mission of the ACL, which is to provide support to family and informal caregivers who care for loved ones. The National Family Caregivers Support Program provides information, assistance in gaining access to caregiver resources, and respite care. Let’s look at how the program offers support.

Community living

Most older and disabled adults state they want to live in their communities at home. The benefits of living in the community are numerous. Community living is less expensive than most other institutional settings. Also, when someone lives at home, they have greater opportunities to contribute to their communities as viable and productive citizens. And, living in the community is a legal right as established by the Supreme Court in 1999.

Self-directed care

People who receive care need assistance with activities of daily living and other tasks such as eating, shopping, and mental health services. Although some will have challenges in expressing their preferences, the National Caregiver Support Program believes that everyone should have the opportunity to express their needs and preferences. 

Assistance with accessing resources

Accessing caregiver resources is at the heart of the National Family Caregiver Support Program. Grants are awarded to communities based on the number of people over 70. Resources will come from both private and non-profit agencies depending on the community. Resources include mental health services, respite care, and caregiver support programs.

Aging and Disability Resource Centers

The Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) serve as single entry points into the long-term services and supports (LTSS) system for older adults, people with disabilities, caregivers, veterans, and families. The purpose of ADRCs is to provide a single access point to reduce confusion and time for older adults, people with disabilities, and their families. ADRCs assist families of all income levels.

Centers for Independent Living

Independent Living Services (ILS) and Centers for Independent Living (CILs) are designed and operated by individuals with disabilities that provide independent living services for people with all types of disabilities. The CIL promotes self-determination and respect. The ILS provides resources and support for integrating people with disabilities into their communities. 

Eldercare Locator

Eldercare Locator is a gateway to national services that connect older adults to community resources. Eldercare Locator links those who need assistance with state and local agencies on aging, as well as community-based organizations that serve older adults and their caregivers. The types of services they connect with are meals, home care, transportation, long-term care resources, and housing. 

The Alzheimer’s Disease Programs Initiative (ADPI)

The ADPI is a program to bring home and community-based services to families dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Some of these services offer direct care, and others identify service gaps and help develop community-based supports. ADPI dedicates resources to states and community-based organizations to provide services and training.

Does the National Family Caregivers Support Program Cost Any Money?

Caregivers, their loved ones, and others do not need to pay to gain access to information provided by the National Family Caregiver Support Program or their affiliated programs. However, depending on the community program you access, there could be income qualifications for participation. The fact remains that there are not nearly enough financial resources to assist all caregivers in every community. Each state will determine eligibility requirements for some programs. 

Who Qualifies for the National Family Caregivers Support Program?

As you access the database of community resources through the National Family Caregivers Support Program, each community will have different programs. But, in general, these are the qualifications for eligibility:

  • Adult family members or other informal caregivers age 18 and older providing care to individuals 60 years of age and older.
  • Adult family members or other informal caregivers age 18 and older that provide care to individuals of any age with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
  • Older relatives (not parents) aged 55 and older providing care to children under the age of 18.
  • Older relatives, including parents, age 55 and older, providing care to adults ages 18-59 with disabilities.

(Taken from the ACL National Family Caregiver Support Program website.)

What Are the Benefits of the National Family Caregivers Support Program?

The benefits of the National Family Caregivers Support Program are vast and far-reaching. As your caregiving situation changes, so will your need for support and resources. Also, each community will vary in terms of the programs and services.

Support groups and counseling

Support groups are opportunities for caregivers to come together, either in person or virtually, to gain encouragement and suggestions on care. Each community has support groups available to caregivers. Support groups can help people feel less isolated. Individual or group counseling can help with stress, depression, and anxiety and assist people with developing healthy coping strategies. 

Aging in place

For families to keep their loved ones at home and out of a nursing home or other expensive housing options, they need support. Access to caregiver support through the National Caregivers Support Program can assist families with keeping someone at home where care is more likely to be affordable and preferred. 

Short-term respite

Respite care is designed to give caregivers a break by offering paid and volunteer respite providers for people who qualify. Short-term respite can also mean Adult Day Care and access to other supportive respite services. The mental health of caregivers depends upon preventing burnout and additional stress. Respite can offer a much-needed break from caregiving duties.

Transportation services

Some communities will offer transportation services to older adults who qualify. Most transportation services are accessed through your local Area Agency on Aging or disability services. 

Information and education

The National Family Caregivers Support Program is the portal to various educational, training, and information programs in your community. Each public or private recipient of grant funding will have different services available to meet you and your loved one’s needs. 

How Do You Apply for the Program?

There is no formal application for the National Family Caregivers Support Program since each community will have many different programs and supports available. Each state program may require a different process for application. However, to get you started, we have a couple of steps you can take.

Know your priorities

Prioritizing your caregiving needs will help you focus on the programs that will best serve you and your loved one. Otherwise, you may become discouraged by the available programs and criteria for each of them. Your priorities will change over time, and that is fine. Do you need help with respite, transportation, counseling, dementia care, meal delivery, or caregiver training? Try to have patience through the process, as many programs could have waiting lists or a lengthy application process. 

Access Eldercare Locator

Eldercare Locator is your one-stop shop to find resources in your specific community. You can put in your city, state, and zip code to get directions to support services in your area. Depending on the size of your city, you will gain instant access to your Area Agency on Aging, Elder Abuse Prevention, Health Insurance Counseling, Legal Services, the Long Term Care Ombudsman, and American Indian Tribes and Tribal Organizations.

Use Aging and Adult Services

Each state has an Aging and Adult Services program. Contacting your local office through Eldercare Locator will take you directly to the source of much of the caregiver funding programs available. Most offices have an outreach department that can talk with you about your priorities and direct you to the program within aging services most likely to help you.

Your local aging services administer meals on wheels, senior transportation, senior companion, caregiver support, home and community-based programs, and senior centers. Their knowledgeable staff has expertise in all caregiver support programs available in your community.

The National Family Caregivers Support Program

Family caregiving support has a long way to go, but the National Family Caregivers Support Program continues to offer a pathway to resources. With enough patience and persistence, you can find support for yourself and your loved one.

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